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Friday, 3 May, 2002, 21:26 GMT 22:26 UK
Straw jeered in Gibraltar
Crowds protesting at the British-Spanish deal over Gibraltar
One in 10 of the rock's population protested
UK Foreign Secretary Jack Straw has been jeered in Gibraltar as he tried to allay residents' fears that Britain was planning to give up its sovereignty over the territory.

Police said crowds of up to 3,500 - more than a tenth of the rock's population - booed and jostled Mr Straw as he arrived at the British governor's residence.

"Traitor!", many shouted, with one man yelling: "We are as British as you are," and another saying: "You should be ashamed of yourself."

We are not going to hand over Gibraltar to Spain

Jack Straw

Mr Straw later held a live question-and-answer question on Gibraltar television, where he insisted Britain was "on Gibraltar's side", despite being described by callers as "contemptuous" and "a bully".

"We are not going to hand over Gibraltar to Spain. We are absolutely committed to preserving British citizenship and the British way of life," Mr Straw said.

Spain and Britain have been in discussions for six months over the disputed British territory, and hope to have an agreement on joint sovereignty by July.

Mr Straw has repeatedly insisted no deal has yet been done, and that any agreement would have to be approved in a referendum by the people of Gibraltar.

Prosperity warning

Mr Straw was hoping to explain to Gibraltarians the benefits of a deal on shared power, including an end to problems such as border controls, restrictions on the use of Gibraltar airport and interruptions to telecommunications.

As long as a dispute with Spain lingers on, there can be no certainty for long term prosperity [for Gibraltar]

Jack Straw

The vast majority of residents are vehemently opposed to any deal with Spain, fearing it is the start of a "slippery slope" to full Spanish control.

Mr Straw stressed that the colony's military base would remain British.

But he warned Gibraltarians that their future prosperity could be at risk if a deal could not be reached.

Writing in the Gibraltar Chronicle ahead of his visit, he said: "I do not believe the status quo is a realistic option for Gibraltar. As long as a dispute with Spain lingers on, there can be no certainty for long term prosperity."

Spain's aspirations

Mr Straw met Gibraltar's chief minister Peter Caruana, opposition politicians, trade union leaders and businessmen during his six-hour visit.

Mr Caruana has been one of the most vociferous opponents to Britain's talks with Spain.

After the meeting, both men said there had been a "frank" exchange of views, which had been "constructive".

On Tuesday the Spanish prime minister declared Spain would never cede its claim to complete sovereignty over Gibraltar.

In an interview with the Guardian newspaper, Jose Maria Aznar said the joint deal would offer the best prospects for Gibraltarians, and promised that they would enjoy "ample self-government".

He warned that if no agreement was reached, Spain would continue to put "limitations" on the development of Gibraltar and the operations of its airport.

Spain has been trying to get the Rock back ever since it ceded Gibraltar to Britain nearly 300 years ago.

The BBC's Angus Roxburgh
"Jack Straw came to the rock to re-assure people"
The BBC's Richard Lister
"They really are very unhappy at the situation"
UK Foreign Secretary Jack Straw
"It was just a boisterous demonstration"
See also:

30 Apr 02 | Europe
Spain renews claim to Gibraltar
05 Feb 02 | UK Politics
Straw accused of Gibraltar betrayal
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