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Editorial

Spain softens Gibraltar stance with cruise ship welcome

News date: Tuesday, 12th of October, 2004

Spain has wasted no time in acting on its promise to improve relations with the people of Gibraltar after confirming that it would lift a ban that had prevented cruise liners visiting the Rock, according to Spanish press reports.

For much of the past three years Madrid has ruled that non-EU flagged vessels that dock in Gibraltar may not then visit a Spanish port. With most Mediterranean cruises scheduled also to stop at Barcelona or Malaga, many cruise companies had opted for dropping Gibraltar as a port of call. Gibraltar was believed to be losing income generated by up to 20 cruise liners a year.

The Spanish government of José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero has pledged a more conciliatory line with the Gibraltarians, though without giving up Spain's claim to sovereignty over the Rock. It plans to drop the ban on cruise liners moving from Gibraltar to Spanish ports, foreign ministry sources in Madrid told El Mundo newspaper yesterday.

Spanish newspapers report that the moves are an attempt to persuade Britain to return to the negotiating table for talks aimed at establishing co-sovereignty. Those talks halted two years ago when Gibraltar's chief minister, Peter Caruana, called a referendum in which 99% of voters said they opposed such a deal.

British negotiators had reportedly told their Spanish counterparts that, with Gibraltarians so suspicious of Spain, further talks were pointless unless Madrid did something to woo the support of those on the Rock.

General Franco closed the frontier with Gibraltar in 1969 and it stayed shut for the next 13 years. Gibraltarians claim that Spanish authorities have continually tried to make their lives difficult through lengthy border checks.

The previous conservative prime minister, José María Aznar, made it clear that he considered a co-sovereignty deal to be only a stage towards full sovereignty.

Mr Caruana says he will now start looking for a new arrangement with Britain to give Gibraltar more self-rule without losing British sovereignty. He met a senior Madrid diplomat, José Pons, at the weekend, marking the first direct contact between the Spanish foreign ministry and Gibraltar for three years.

Spain ceded the colony to Britain in 1713 and now claims it should be given back.

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