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GIBRALTAR

UK condemns Spain over new Gibraltar ‘incursion’

The British government summoned the Spanish ambassador to London on Wednesday to explain a fresh "incursion" by Spanish vessels into Gibraltar's territorial waters.

UK condemns Spain over new Gibraltar 'incursion'
Ambassador Federico Trillo was hauled in to explain why a Spanish state research vessel and its police escort entered the waters off Gibraltar. Photo: Marcos Moreno/AFP

Ambassador Federico Trillo was hauled in to explain why a Spanish state research vessel and its police escort entered the waters off the tiny British peninsula on Tuesday, the Foreign Office said in a statement.

It comes barely four months after Trillo was summoned to discuss a day-long stand-off also involving a Spanish research vessel, which defied repeated Royal Navy orders to leave Gibraltarian waters.

"I am extremely concerned to hear of another incursion into British Gibraltar territorial waters on 1 April by a Spanish state research vessel, which sought to undertake survey activity," said Britain's Europe minister, David Lidington.

"Not only were the actions of the survey vessel unlawful, but it was accompanied by a Spanish Guardia Civil vessel whose dangerous manoeuvring presented a significant safety concern on the waters."

He added: "I strongly condemn this provocative incursion and urge the Spanish government to ensure that it is not repeated."

It is the fourth time that Britain has publicly summoned Spain's ambassador over Gibraltar since Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy took office in December 2011.

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 tensions.

Relations between London and Madrid became particularly strained last year after Gibraltar dropped 70 concrete blocks into the sea in July, in what its government said was an attempt to create an artificial reef.

The move had the effect of also blocking Spanish fishing boats from operating close to the airport runway, and Madrid responded by introducing stringent border checks.

On November 19, the Foreign Office summoned the ambassador to explain an incursion by the oceanographic survey ship Ramon Margalef, which it said came within 250 metres (yards) of the entrance to Gibraltar harbour.

Barely a week later, Britain made a formal protest to Spain after its officials opened British diplomatic bags at the border with Gibraltar. Prime Minister David Cameron accepted Madrid's explanation that a junior official was to blame.

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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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