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Gibraltar: Fresh flare-up strains relations between Britain and Spain

Gibraltar: Fresh flare-up strains relations between Britain and Spain
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Spain’s extra security checks on vehicles entering Gibraltar has not only caused traffic tailbacks. They have also threatened to jam relations between Madrid and London once again.

The Rock has long been a source of friction, as Spain continues to assert its claim to the British territory.

Tensions are also being stoked by Madrid’s plans for border fees and airspace controls.

“They have to resolve it. We, the working class, can’t be blamed for what happens here, it’s the fault of politicians,” said one Spanish woman who works in Gibraltar.

A tiny territory at the tip of the Iberian peninsula, Gibraltar was under Spanish rule until 1704, when an Anglo-Dutch force took possession. Britain gained control nine years later.

But Spain has never dropped its territorial claim to the rocky outcrop, which is home to around 30-thousand people.

The frontier between Spain and Gibraltar was closed for most of the 1970s and the first part of the 1980s because of the dispute.

“Gibraltar is a British territory because of a conquest. Spain believes that the conquest does not give Britain the right to have sovereignty over the territory,” said Jose Maria Ridao, a writer and former Spanish diplomat, speaking in July 2009.

London has always stood firm and in a 2002 referendum, 99 percent of Gibraltar voters opposed proposals for joint sovereignty with Spain.

Britain and Spain have worked hard to avoid a full blown conflict. In 2006, for example, a forum for tripartite dialogue on Gibraltar was established.

The friction flared up again recently when boats from Gibraltar dumped concrete blocks in the sea, to create a reef for fishing. Spain said it was a measure that would block its vessels and hit back with the tougher border checks.

Both sides are showing signs of trying to ease the latest tensions, but it is unlikely to be the end of this long-running territorial spat.