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DRUGS

Drug traffickers dump hashish worth €4.7m into Bay of Gibraltar during high-speed boat chase

Spanish and Gibraltarian police on Thursday recovered hashish worth nearly five million dollars that was thrown into the Bay of Gibraltar by drug traffickers to escape a high-speed chase.

Drug traffickers dump hashish worth €4.7m into Bay of Gibraltar during high-speed boat chase
Photo: AFP

Acting on a tipoff, Royal Gibraltar Police located five inflatable boats loaded with hashish resin in the contested waters around Gibraltar, a tiny British territory on Spain's southern tip.

When police neared one of the boats, its occupants started to throw their cargo overboard in an attempt to lighten their load and pick up speed, Royal Gibraltar Police said in a statement.

The boat left Gibraltar's territorial waters and the chase was then taken up by Spain's Guardia Civil police force but the traffickers managed to escape, it added.

Authorities retraced the route of the chase and picked up 34 bales of hashish resin — Gibraltar police and customs recovered 27 bales and the Guardia Civil another seven.

The drugs weighed around 800 kilos (1,800 pounds) and are estimated to have a street value of £4,050,000 ($4,968,000/€4,762,000).    

“This highlights the close cooperation that exists not just among local law enforcement agencies, but also with the Guardia Civil in combating crime, particularly drug trafficking, across the Straits of Gibraltar,” the statement said.

Madrid ceded Gibraltar in 1713 under the Treaty of Utrecht. The territory remains a source of British-Spanish tensions, with Madrid long claiming it should be returned to Spanish sovereignty.

While Spanish and Gibraltar police cooperate regularly at the grass roots level, there are often flare-ups between the two sides over jurisdiction and sovereignty.

Gibraltar says Spanish vessels regularly stray deep into its territorial waters and Britain's Foreign Office has attacked such incidents as provocative.    

In the most serious recent incident, a British navy patrol boat fired flares to warn off a survey ship operated by Spain's Oceanographic Institute which had entered disputed waters.

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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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