Catalan nationalists back Gibraltar against Spain

Catalonia's Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya (ERC) party has sent a letter of support to Gibraltar's Chief Minister in the wake of the territory's row with Spain.

Catalan nationalists back Gibraltar against Spain
"We most sincerely regret the improper bullying and harassment that the Spanish government is applying to your citizens," the ERC said to Gibraltar. Photo: Josep Lago/AFP

The left-wing ERC sent the letter to Gibraltar Chief Minister Fabian Picardo on Tuesday.

In that letter, the separatist party — Catalonia's largest — offered Gibraltar support in the face of Spain's "bullying" of the UK territory.

"We most sincerely regret the improper bullying and harassment that the Spanish government is applying on the citizens whom you democratically represent," Alfred Bosch, leader of ERC in the Spanish parliament, wrote to Picardo.

Read The Local's opinion piece on why Gibraltar should be Spanish.

Tensions between Spain and the UK have risen in recent weeks after Gibraltar began creating an artificial reef in the waters of The Rock.

Spain say the reef stops local Spanish fishermen from accessing their traditional fishing grounds and has flagged the idea of a €50 fee for anyone crossing the border between Spain and Gibraltar.

That money then would go to compensating Spanish fishermen, Spain has said.

But ERC spokesperson Bosch went on to say Spain was trying "to divert attention from its own internal political and financial scandals" in the row.

“We are convinced that the only solution to the issue of the Rock, as with the issue of Catalonia, is through dialogue, suffrage and the principle of self-determination," said Bosch in the letter.

"No question should be handled without consulting the people concerned.

"Your liberty is our liberty," the ERC letter stated.

The ERC comments are unlikely to be greeted warmly by the Spanish government in Madrid , which is staunchly anti-separatist.

The ruling Popular Party (PP) is locked in a battle with the centralist CDC government of Catalonian President Artur Mas who has called for a regional referendum on Catalonia's right to decide on the issue of independence.

The ERC won 13.7 percent if the vote in the latest regional elections in Catalonia.

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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”.