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GIBRALTAR

UK slams Spain over Gibraltar gridlock

The British government said it had "serious concerns" after Gibraltar accused Madrid of deliberately creating delays to car traffic to and from the disputed British-held territory to Spain.

UK slams Spain over Gibraltar gridlock
Vehicles leaving Gibraltar have since Friday been made to wait nearly six hours to cross the border between Gibraltar and Spain. Photo: AFP/File

Vehicles leaving Gibraltar have since Friday been made to wait nearly six hours to cross the border between Gibraltar and Spain as Spanish authorities searched "practically every vehicle", the government of Gibraltar said.

"The Spanish government has inflicted these unnecessary delays on the elderly, children and the infirm in up to 30 degrees of heat," it added in a statement.

"This torture has resulted in an ambulance being deployed to treat people with medical conditions."

On Friday, a Spanish man caught in the queue to cross the border had to be taken to hospital with chest pains, the statement added.

The Gibraltar authorities were organizing the distribution of bottled water.

Check out The Local's list on ten things you didn't know about Gibraltar.

Foreign Secretary William Hague telephoned his Spanish counterpart on Sunday to express "serious concerns" over the delays, the Foreign Office said.

In addition to the call, the ministry revealed that Britain had registered a protest with the Spanish ambassador in London.

"Our main concerns at the moment are restoring people's basic right to freedom of movement, and we want to work towards a speedy solution that will help to ease the very difficult situation and humanitarian issues at the border and enable a return to normal operations," said a spokesman.

The row over the border crossing follows earlier accusations of incursions by Spanish fishing boats into Gibraltar's territorial waters.

Gibraltar chief minister Fabian Picardo said he had "absolutely no doubt" that the border traffic delays were linked to a disagreement between Spain and Gibraltar over the placing of concrete blocks to create an artificial reef in Gibraltar's territorial waters.

"This is the way that Spain thinks it is appropriate to retaliate," he told the Gibraltar Broadcasting Corporation.

A contractor hired by the government of Gibraltar placed concrete blocks into the sea around the territory in Spain's southern tip on Wednesday and Thursday to create an artificial reef.

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

Tiny Gibraltar, just 6.8 square kilometres (2.6 square miles) and home to about 30,000 people, overlooks the only entrance to the Mediterranean Sea from the Atlantic Ocean.

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ABORTION

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”.

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