Spanish smuggling suspect dies during high speed boat chase off Gibraltar

Spanish man suspected of smuggling tobacco died when his boat collided with a Gibraltarian coastguard vessel, sparking tensions in a nearby Spanish town, British and Spanish officials said Tuesday.

Spanish smuggling suspect dies during high speed boat chase off Gibraltar
Photo: AFP

Police in the tiny British territory said they had opened an investigation into the death of a Spanish national “in an incident involving an HM customs vessel carrying out anti-smuggling operations.. and another boat”.

They identified him as a 42-year-old resident of La Linea de Concepcion, a down-trodden Spanish town that borders Gibraltar on Spain's southern tip.    

Following the incident, which took place late on Monday, a Spanish policespokesman told AFP the boat in question belonged to “several suspected tobacco

But the fatal collision sparked angry demonstrations in La Linea where around 100 people began “hurling different objects at the police,” the police official said, indicating the unrest continued into the night.

In a statement, Gibraltar's Chief Minister Fabian Picardo said a full investigation would be carried out and the victim's family kept fully informed.

“The exact circumstances surrounding this tragic incident are still unclear but I have sent my deepest condolences to the family involved and to the mayor of La Linea,” he said.

A sprawling town with high unemployment, La Linea is located in the southern Cadiz province which is the entry point for 40 percent of all drugs smuggled into Spain, interior ministry figures say.

It is also the entry point for contraband tobacco, with widespread cigarette smuggling between the tiny, low-tax British territory and Spain posing a major irritant in their frayed diplomatic relations.

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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”.