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Monday, 18 March, 2002, 13:04 GMT
Residents plan show of strength
Flags are handed out to would-be protesters
Gibraltarians are gearing up for a show of strength
test hello test
By Catherine Miller
BBC News Online correspondent in Gibraltar

Gibraltar is running out of flags to give the thousands planning to attend a protest rally on Monday.

Up to 90% of the colony's 30,000 population are expected to demonstrate against negotiations between the UK and Spain over the colony's future.
Symbols of unity with Britain are everywhere
On Friday, a queue of people snaked around the Piazza on Gibraltar's Main Street as the last of 8,000 flags - 4,000 Gibraltarian and 4,000 British - were handed out.

Those who got there early received one of each.

But later, would-be protesters had to make a choice between the two.

"I took the Gibraltarian one of course," said one woman in her 20s.

Refusal to negotiate

The protest is set to be a massive show of Gibraltarian strength and an indication of the depth of feeling that exists here against any bi-lateral decision affecting British sovereignty.

"It is absolutely vital that Gibraltar speaks loudly and that we all turn up with our families so that the whole community is present to say that Gibraltar is opposed to UK and Spain entering into declarations or agreements in principle above our heads," said Chief Minister Peter Caruana.

He has so far refused to take a seat at the negotiations.

I have got no interest in the demonstration, it is nothing to do with me

Spanish barman working in Gibraltar
The Council of Representative Bodies - the coalition of interest groups organising the demonstration - has made sure everyone will be able to attend.

As well as ensuring there are plenty of flags, they have laid on buses to bring people from an old folks' home.

Special provisions have been made for the disabled, and those with young children have been told to bring them along.

Everyone, except for essential workers and those employed by the Ministry of Defence, is getting half a day off and schools, shops and cafes will close at lunchtime.

Under such conditions, there are no excuses for non-attendance.

Windows smashed

One local resident told me that those who did not show up would be shunned socially.

"It's a witch-hunt," he said.

Others have said that those who speak out in favour of an agreement with Spain could have their windows smashed.

Peter Caruana
Mr Caruana says a mass protest is needed
That puts the estimated 3,000 Spanish workers employed in Gibraltar in an uncomfortable position.

"I have got no interest in the demonstration, it is nothing to do with me," said one Spanish barman, wary of discussing the issue in front of his Gibraltarian boss and regulars.

"I'm going to come in to work as normal," he said.

Anyone here with doubts about turning up on Monday will remember the fate of those who swam against the tide 35 years ago.

Violence unlikely

The 44 "palomos", or doves, who voted in favour of Spain in the 1967 referendum on sovereignty, were forced to flee the Rock in the backlash that ensued.

While it is no longer Franco's Spain which lies across the border, and violence is considered unlikely these days, the national fervour now gripping Gibraltar still leaves little room for debate or dissent.

And yet, times have perhaps changed more than the political rhetoric would suggest.

When asked why the protest was taking place on Monday, bringing Gibraltar to an economic standstill, rather than at the weekend, one Gibraltarian replied: "But you couldn't have it on Saturday. Everyone would have gone to Spain."

The BBC's Chris Morris
"It would give a substantial amount of authority to Gibraltar"
Gibraltar's Chief Minister Peter Caruana
"There is complete unanimity of view in Gibraltar"
See also:

16 Mar 02 | UK Politics
Gibraltar attacks sovereignty plan
16 Mar 02 | Europe
EU summit agrees key reforms
15 Mar 02 | Europe
Gibraltar's best friend in Spain
14 Mar 02 | Europe
Growing up on the Rock
13 Mar 02 | Europe
The rocky road to Spain
11 Feb 02 | UK Politics
'Gibraltar wants to remain British'
05 Feb 02 | UK Politics
Straw accused of Gibraltar betrayal
06 Feb 02 | England
Scramble for Rock votes
04 Feb 02 | UK Politics
Gibraltar talks 'still on course'
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