Gibraltar chief booed out of Spanish university

The political chief of Britain's outpost of Gibraltar came in for a nasty surprise on Thursday when Spanish activists and fishermen hurled insults at him, preventing him from speaking to law students in Spain.

Gibraltar chief booed out of Spanish university
Protesters, some with their faces covered, unfurled banners and Spanish flags while hurling insults and chanting "Gibraltar is Spanish" at the event. Photo: Marcos Moreno/AFP

Several dozen Spanish protesters including activists and fishermen joined in the rowdy rally against Gibraltar Chief Minister Fabian Picardo at a time of high tension over the sovereignty of the "Rock".

A group of young men and women, some with their faces covered, unfurled banners and Spanish flags while hurling insults and chanting "Gibraltar is Spanish" at the event in a faculty in Algeciras, across the bay from Gibraltar.

Fishermen from the Spanish ports of La Linea and Algeciras joined in, shouting that Picardo and Gibraltar had ruined their livelihoods.

After about 20 minutes of angry scenes, organizers from the University of Cadiz cancelled the event, citing safety concerns.

 In this video demonstrators can be heard chanting: "Out of the university pirate!"

"The visible level of hate and violence I witnessed was frankly remarkable. I sincerely believe that we should be talking to resolve the political issues between us," said Picardo, a lawyer by profession.

"Violence and intolerance will not achieve anything. It will certainly not change my pro-dialogue views," he said.

The conservative Popular Party-run Algeciras city council had opposed the invitation for Picardo to speak to students. Socialists members of the council, however, defended the event as a matter of academic freedom.

Spain ceded Gibraltar to Britain in perpetuity in 1713 but has long argued that it should be returned to Spanish sovereignty, and the territory remains a source of diplomatic tension.

Gibraltar dropped 70 concrete blocks into the sea in July, saying it aimed to create an artificial reef. But the barrier also prevented Spanish fishing boats that trawl for shellfish from operating in the area.

Spain then introduced stringent border checks in August, leading to lengthy delays for motorists trying to enter the tiny territory on the southern tip of Spain.

This month, Britain called in the Spanish ambassador over a "provocative" day-long stand-off in which a Spanish state research vessel defied Royal Navy orders to leave waters Gibraltar claims as its own.

In the latest spat, Prime Minister David Cameron said this week that Spain had promised there would be no repeat of an "extremely serious" incident in which its officials searched British diplomatic bags at the Gibraltar border.

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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”.