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Last Updated: Wednesday, 4 August, 2004, 14:50 GMT 15:50 UK
Gibraltar visit 'a slap in Spain's face'
Gibraltar - rock and harbour
Gibraltar was captured by British and Dutch forces in 1704
The visit of British Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon to Gibraltar as the territory celebrates 300 years of British rule has provoked nationalistic feelings on both sides.

The newspapers in both countries give a flavour of this sentiment, largely siding with their own governments' positions.

In Spain, the high-level visit is being seen as an insult.

La Razon says along with "Princess Anne's visit, then the visit by the submarine Tireless... there have been three diplomatic slaps in the face for Spain".

It says Mr Hoon's trip "shows a great lack of sensitivity to the national feelings of a friendly country, an ally and partner as Spain is supposed to be".

The Blair government seems to be seeking an escalation in gestures of contempt
La Vanguardia
El Pais says the rank of the secretary of state shows that while the official reason for the visit is to mark the anniversary of British sovereignty, "in reality the military conquest of the Rock is what is being celebrated".

British Prime Minister Tony Blair is criticised for not adopting "common sense" in La Vanguardia.

"While 'it might have been hoped' that London 'would exercise some restraint', as the Spanish foreign minister has rightly pointed out, the Blair government, quite on the contrary, seems to be seeking an escalation in gestures of contempt," it said.

Britain's Guardian newspaper agrees wholeheartedly.

"It is hard to imagine a more insensitive choice to represent the government... than the defence secretary," it says.

"The Rock is one of those problems left over from history which, even with maximum goodwill, still defy compromise solutions. All the more reason, therefore, not to rub Spanish noses in it with an effusion of British military pride."

[Gibraltarians] take to the streets today to celebrate... (and annoy the Spanish)
The Independent
But its stance is unusual. Most British newspapers say the UK is on a firm legal footing with its insistence that Gibraltar cannot be handed back to Spain without the consent of its inhabitants.

John Keegan in the Daily Telegraph says: "Diplomatically, there is no doubt about Britain's right to Gibraltar. It was captured in a fair fight in 1704."

The Sun is at its most feverishly patriotic.

"Throughout wars, sieges and years of harassment by Spain, the Rock has been proud to fly the [British] Union Flag," it says.

Now, it adds, "the Spanish are causing trouble again... How dare they dictate what we can do with a British colony?"

Gibraltar's own Gibraltar Chronicle is restrained in comparison.

"Major occasions often mark a fresh point of departure - a celebration not so much of the past but particularly for the future... [Madrid and London] might consider the recent disposition by the chief minister to talk, and the warmth for such a process in most of the Campo, as a real opportunity to set us off towards a truly post-colonial era. A new chapter," it says.

But Britain's Independent lays the blame for the impasse mainly at the door of the Gibraltarians themselves.

Under the headline "Gibraltar should get its future in perspective", it says its isolation "looks increasingly anomalous in a European Union committed to the free movement of peoples".

Gibraltarians are taking to the streets, it says, not just to celebrate, but to "annoy the Spanish".

Hoon in Gibraltar despite protest
04 Aug 04  |  Politics
Spain 'obsessed' with Gibraltar
02 Aug 04  |  Europe
Spain ire at Hoon Gibraltar trip
31 Jul 04  |  Europe
Regions and territories: Gibraltar
29 Jun 04  |  Country profiles

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