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Monday, 18 March, 2002, 19:24 GMT
Mass protest over Gibraltar sovereignty
Peter Caruana (centre) leads the demonstration
The demonstration won massive support
Residents of Gibraltar have taken to the streets in a huge protest against moves by the UK to change the territory's status.

Gibraltar's Chief Minister, Peter Caruana, said 25,000 of Gibraltar's 30,000 population took part in Monday's demonstration.


It is completely wrong for the UK and Spain to agree principles about our future, completely above our heads

Chief Minister Peter Caruana
Flags of the UK and Gibraltar were draped on almost every building.

The UK and Spain have begun talks on Gibraltar's future, pledging to settle their long dispute over its sovereignty by the summer.

The two governments are thought to be ready to agree on joint sovereignty, but the UK has said any changes must first be accepted by Gibraltar's residents.

"Gibraltar is ours. It is not Britain's to give away nor Spain's to claim," said Mr Caruana to loud cheers at the demonstration.

Schools, businesses and government departments closed early to allow people to protest.

Fury

The Anglo-Spanish moves have provoked the fury of Mr Caruana and many other residents, who claim they are being "sold out" by London.

"There is complete unanimity of view in Gibraltar that it is right for there to be reasonable dialogue," Mr Caruana told the BBC on Monday.

Demonstrators
Many Gibraltarians feel betrayed by Britain's participation in the talks
"But it is completely wrong for the UK and Spain to agree principles about our future, completely above our heads."

"We want to be Gibraltarian and British because we've always been like that," said one woman on the march.

"We've got nothing against Spain but they can keep Spain for themselves and we keep Gibraltar for ourselves."

EU offer 'offensive'

Mr Caruana has also rejected a promise of financial aid from the European Union, made at the Barcelona summit on Saturday, to sweeten the deal being negotiated by Spain and the UK.

He said the idea that Gibraltar would sell its "rights and wishes and aspirations" was offensive.

Mr Caruana also attacked the two governments for planning a declaration of principle ahead of any referendum.

The effect, he said, would be to tell Gibraltarians: "'Sooner or later you are going to have to be Spanish - if you don't want it to be now it's up to you to choose the timing in the future'."

The UK believes the deal would bring benefits to Gibraltar's residents, without ending their status as British citizens.

But an overwhelming majority of the population is currently expected to reject any change to the territory's constitutional status.

A referendum held in 1967 showed only 44 people were prepared to consider a Spanish Gibraltar.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Andrew Marr
"Mr Caruana has boycotted the talks"
Gibraltar's Chief Minister Peter Caruana
"There is complete unanimity of view in Gibraltar"
UK Foreign Office Minister Peter Hain
"We will not hand over Gibraltar to Spain"
See also:

16 Mar 02 | UK Politics
Gibraltar attacks sovereignty plan
16 Mar 02 | Europe
EU summit agrees key reforms
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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