Spain PM to take 'all necessary measures' to protect Gibraltar interests

9th August 2013, Comments 0 comments

Spain will take "all necessary measures" to defend its interests in Gibraltar, Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said Friday, the latest salvo over the British outpost on Spain's southern tip.

"We will take legal measures which are proportionate to defend the interests of Spaniards," he said after a meeting with Spain's King Juan Carlos on the Mediterranean island of Majorca.

"We will take all necessary measures. Our priority is to discuss, negotiate and find an agreement," he added.

Increasingly stringent car searches by Spanish border guards have irked Gibraltar, which has accused Madrid of acting in retaliation for the tiny territory dumping concrete blocks in the sea to create an artificial reef.

The Spanish argue that the border checks -- which have caused tailbacks of several hours -- are necessary to combat smuggling, and that the reef is a deliberate impediment to Spanish fishing vessels in a dispute over territorial waters.

"We can and should carry out border controls like the ones which we have carried out in recent days," Rajoy said.

Madrid also said it had authorised a British helicopter carrier, the HMS Illustrious, to stop at a naval base in Rota in southern Spain near Gibraltar as it makes its way to a routine manoeuvre in the Mediterranean.

The helicopter carrier is one of 10 British vessels which will depart on Monday for the mission. A British frigate taking part, the HMS Westminster, will dock in Gibraltar, Britain's defence ministry said.

Spanish media raised alarm bells over the navy's plans. "(British Prime Minister David) Cameron intimidates Rajoy as his fleet visits Gibraltar," the centre-right El Mundo newspaper said on its front page.

Rajoy said the British navy manoeuvres had already been announced in June and that several British naval ships had stopped in Rota in recent years.

"Bilateral ties with Britain are good and we want then to remain so in the future. This has nothing to do with what is going on right now in Gibraltar where I hope common sense will prevail," he added.

A Downing Street spokesman said Cameron had warned Rajoy in a telephone call on Wednesday that there was "a real risk" that bilateral relations would be damaged "unless the situation at the border improved."

The two premiers discussed ways to calm the situation during the phone call, which both sides have described as "constructive".

Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Garcia-Margallo fuelled tensions when he suggested Sunday that Madrid could impose a 50-euro ($66) charge to cross the 1.2 kilometre frontier in either direction, which would affect thousands of people who make the trip every day.

Spanish officials argue the border checks are needed since Gibraltar is not part of the Schengen area -- the open-border zone of some mainland European countries.

The European Commission said Tuesday it would send a team of monitors to the Spain-Gibraltar border to ensure that the controls are applied "proportionately".

Spain ceded Gibraltar to Britain in perpetuity in 1713 but has long argued that it should be returned to Spanish sovereignty. London says it will not do so against the wishes of Gibraltarians -- who are staunchly pro-British.

The self-governing British overseas territory, measuring just 6.8 square kilometres (2.6 square miles), is home to about 30,000 people, and is strategically important as it overlooks the only entrance to the Mediterranean Sea from the Atlantic Ocean.

© 2013 AFP

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