Spanish police stopped every one of 10,000 vehicles leaving Gibraltar for the mainland yesterday, causing six-hour traffic jams in the latest escalation in the standoff over the Rock.
Officers from the Royal Gibraltar Police were forced to impose diversions and create beachside holding areas as Spanish authorities ‘choked’ the border, causing massive tailbacks in 30C heat.
It was the second day that border guards had blocked links to the mainland, in a move that seemed calculated to bring Gibraltar to a standstill.
The move follows a string of recent incidents which have included Spanish police opening fire on a jetskier in British waters, incursions by Spanish police boats, and Spanish air force jets roaring across the territory.
Most recently Spanish fishermen sparked a stand-off with the Royal Navy as they attempted to disrupt the creation of an artificial reef in the Bay of Gibraltar last week.
The fishermen used fast boats to weave in between British vessels involved in the reef-laying operation in a bid to create large waves to disrupt the work, the Sunday Express reported.
Intervention by a Royal Navy patrol boat brought an end to the protests. A Gibraltar government spokesman has accused Spain of launching the ‘draconian’ border checks which continued yesterday in ‘retaliation’.
He said the decision to lay the reef, which consists of large concrete blocks sunk to the bottom of the bay, had been taken on environmental grounds.
However, he added, it had infuriated Spanish fishermen since it would also foil any attempts by their vessels to carry out illegal trawling of the bottom of the Bay of Gibraltar.
Criticising the Spanish government’s response, the spokesman added to the Sunday Express: ‘Not only are these measures affecting thousands of innocent Spanish workers who make their living on Gibraltar, but we are extremely concerned about pensioners and families with young children being forced to suffer in this way just because they want to visit the mainland.’
Yesterday’s stand-off is just the latest incident to raise tensions between the British and Spanish governments over Gibraltar, which is at the southern end of the Iberian peninsula and has been under British rule since 1713.
Under the Gibraltar constitution of 2006, Gibraltar governs its own affairs, though some powers, such as defence and foreign relations, remain the responsibility of the UK Government.
The territory’s residents have twice rejected proposals for Spanish sovereignty in a 1967 referendum and again in 2002, but Spain still asserts a claim to the territory.
Earlier this month, angry Gibraltan government officials accused four Spanish warplanes of ‘buzzing’ the territory without warning, an accusation disputed by the Spanish Defence Ministry.
And just days earlier Prime Minister David Cameron confronted his Spanish counterpart over ‘unacceptable’ threats made to Gibraltar after shots were fired at a jet-skier.
He warned Mariano Rajoy that he would not tolerate breaches of international law. It came after Spanish police twice entered British waters, despite British warnings not to do so.
Mr Cameron used a meeting in Brussels to censure Mr Rajoy, as tensions between Spain and the UK have escalated.
The Foreign Office protested to the Spanish government after a boat from Spain’s Guardia Civil entered Gibraltan waters and took potshots at 32-year-old Dale Villa as he rode his jet-ski close to a popular beach.
Just three days later, a police boat was seen in British waters again.
The stranglehold on the border between the 2.6sq/mile territory and the Spanish mainland is the latest issue to raise tensions over Gibraltar.
A spokesman for the territory’s governor told the Sunday Express that British officials had pressed the Spanish government to stop its actions on the border.
source: dailymail UK