Spanish fighter jets fire up Gibraltar strife

The tiny British-held territory of Gibraltar complained to London on Wednesday that four Spanish air force jets entered its territory without permission, the latest in a string of disputes over alleged Spanish incursions into its territory.

Spanish fighter jets fire up Gibraltar strife
Tensions between Spain and the UK have been high since recent allegations that a Spanish police fired at a jet skier in the contested waters of Gibraltar. Photo: Jorge Guerrero/AFP

Four Spanish air force Matador jets entered Gibraltar's airspace from the northwest on Wednesday while apparently on their way to an aircraft carrier that was about 12 nautical miles southeast of the territory, the government of Gibraltar said in a statement.

"At no time did the aircraft make contact with Gibraltar's air-traffic control and the Spanish air traffic authorities in Seville gave no warning of the aircrafts' approach," it said.

Air traffic controllers in Seville delayed the departure from Gibraltar of a British Airways flight to London for 12 minutes until it was safe for it to take off, the statement added.

The government of Gibraltar has called on Britain "to take up the matter of this military incursion into the airspace of Gibraltar at the highest diplomatic and military levels."

Last week British Prime Minister David Cameron protested to his Spanish counterpart Mariano Rajoy at a meeting of European Union leaders in Brussels over allegations that Spanish police fired shots at a jet ski in the contested waters around Gibraltar.

"I think this is a totally unacceptable episode and I made that clear. I think it is very important that people on Gibraltar know that we support them, we support their sovereignty. We need to find out more about what happened but from what I have heard…it is not acceptable," he told a news conference at the EU leaders' meeting, according a statement from the government of Gibraltar.

Madrid has flatly denied accusations that Spanish military-linked Guardia Civil police fired shots while chasing a jet ski on June 23 in waters off Gibraltar and it has criticized Britain for giving credence to rumours.

A Spanish foreign office spokesman said an incident involving a jet ski did take place but that no shots were fired.

 In November, Spain and Britain summoned each other's ambassadors in a spat over a series of naval incidents around the small but strategically situated territory.

Britain has held Gibraltar since 1713 but Spain wants it returned and refuses to recognize British sovereignty over the waters off the land known as the Rock.

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Gibraltar holds referendum on its draconian abortion laws

Gibraltar heads to the polls on Thursday to vote on plans to ease abortion laws which currently carry possible life sentences for offenders, in a referendum delayed for over a year by the coronavirus pandemic.

Gibraltar holds referendum on its draconian abortion laws
A woman wears a t-shirt reading " Gibraltar for Yes!" outside a polling station in Gibraltar, on June 24, 2021. Photo: Jorge Guerrero/AFP

The issue has exposed sharply opposing views within this tiny, normally closely-knit British enclave at the southernmost tip of Spain, which is home to some 32,000 people.

The referendum was initially slated for March 19 2020 but a week ahead of the vote it was postponed as virus cases began spiralling at the start of the pandemic.Except in cases where it would save the mother’s life, abortion is currently banned in Gibraltar on pain of life imprisonment, although such a penalty has not been applied in modern times.

The government is proposing changes to the law to allow abortion where a woman’s mental or physical health is at risk — such as in cases of rape or incest — or when foetuses have fatal physical defects.

Although the changes have already been approved by Gibraltar’s parliament, the referendum will decide whether or not that amended law be brought into force.

Under the changes, a woman would be able to undergo an abortion up to 12 weeks into her pregnancy if her mental or physical health is deemed at risk, or beyond if such damage would be grave and permanent.

There would be no time limit on cases involving fatal foetal anomaly.

Until now, women wanting to have an abortion have had to travel to Spain or to Britain to undergo the procedure.

Chief Minister of Gibraltar Fabian Picardo and his wife Justine Olivero leave a polling station after casting their ballots. Photo: JORGE GUERRERO/AFP

– ‘In Gibraltar’s best interests’ –

Ahead of the vote, both sides have been campaigning hard, with Chief Minister Fabian Picardo and two other party leaders releasing a video urging people to vote “Yes” to the proposed amendment to the crimes act that will regulate abortions in Gibraltar.

“My personal, professional & political opinion on the abortion referendum: it is in #Gibraltar’s best interests to #VoteYes on Thursday 24th June,” Picardo tweeted.

“No” campaigners have also been rallying support with hundreds of people dressed in pink and purple joining a pro-life “Save Babies, vote no” march through the city centre last week, chanting “We vote no!”

On the ballot, voters will be asked: “Should the Crimes (Amendment) Act 2019, that defines the circumstances which would allow abortion in Gibraltar, come into force?”

If the changes are approved, the law is expected to take effect fairly quickly although officials have not yet laid out a timeline.

The proposed changes came after Britain’s Supreme Court ruled in June 2018 that Northern Ireland’s abortion laws, which at the time were almost identical to Gibraltar’s, were incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights.

“It is therefore clear that if the equivalent law on abortion in Northern Ireland was in breach of the Convention, our identical, archaic law is too,” wrote Picardo in an op-ed in Wednesday’s Gibraltar Chronicle.

“It is our duty to vote to stop this ongoing breach.”

Picardo has said he believed the changes were long overdue and that the plans would be approved “by a very large majority”.