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Last Updated: Monday, 3 November, 2003, 16:16 GMT
Fury over Gibraltar border closure
Spanish border police
Thousands of Spanish workers cross to Gibraltar every day
Spain's decision to close its border with Gibraltar following the arrival of a virus-stricken cruise liner has triggered a political storm - and fury from those unable to cross the border.

The closure after the Aurora's arrival stranded hundreds of people trying to get to and from the peninsula by road.

Queues of lorries, cars and pedestrians built up on the Spanish side, among them many of the thousands of Spanish workers who make the daily crossing to work in Gibraltar.

Spanish riot police backed up border guards, reported French news agency AFP.

We all think the Spanish are being pathetic - anyone would think people had died on the ship
Mario Santos
Taxi driver
The closed barriers also prevented many commercial vehicles and tourists heading into Spain.

Businesses said the closure was costing them thousands of pounds.

"We all think the Spanish are being pathetic," said taxi driver Mario Santos, a former Gibraltar police officer.

"Anyone would think people had died on the ship. It's all political. Any little excuse to make a fuss."

A British police officer at the border said the Spanish had dragged metal barriers across the road and stopped any traffic from 7am onwards.

We have had mixed sentiments but mostly people have been upset
Gibraltar policeman
"People have come over to fill up their cars with cheap petrol and when the Spaniards went back to cross the border they had shut it," he said.

"They basically told them 'tough luck'.

"We have had mixed sentiments but mostly people have been upset."

Andy Bray, a lorry driver with the Cornwall-based company Conway Bailey, is trapped in Gibraltar.

"We have loaded drilling equipment from Morocco and can't clear customs," he said.

"We've got six vehicles parked up doing nothing another four on the Spanish side trying to come into the border and we're getting nowhere fast.


"If the vehicle is not working it is not earning so you're looking at about 1,800 to 2,000 a day."

"With friends like this who needs enemies" said Joseph Soica, stuck on the Gibraltar side as reporters described a confrontational atmosphere.

The BBC's Lesley Ashmall in Gibraltar says that, if the closure bemused and irritated the people of Gibraltar, it angered many Spaniards and holidaymakers who have been stranded in Spain.

At one point hundreds of frustrated people were trying to get into the colony, not even knowing why the border was closed.

Spain says the move is a preventative measure, given the contagious nature of the diarrhoea and vomiting virus that has affected more than 500 passengers and 17 crew members on the Aurora.

No contact

But Gibraltar's Chief Minister Peter Caruana has described the move as "a gross overreaction" driven by politics.

"There is absolutely no justification to deny them access, still less for the Spanish authorities to close the landline," he said.

There is absolutely no justification for keeping 1,800 British tourists floating around the Med like unwanted refugees
Peter Caruana
"I think if Spain were not claiming sovereignty of Gibraltar the frontier would not be closed as a result of this incident."

Spain has contested British sovereignty of Gibraltar since the Rock was ceded to Britain in the 18th century.

But Gibraltarians overwhelmingly rejected joint sovereignty of the territory with Spain in a referendum held last November.

Aurora passengers in Gibraltar
A day trip to Spain is off the cards for the cruise passengers
British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw backed Mr Caruana, saying the closure was "unnecessary and disproportionate".

Gibraltarian and Spanish health officials were to meet on Monday to discuss the details of the illness with the aim of reopening the border.

A Spanish health ministry spokesman said: "We obviously hope that this episode will be short but this is a precaution because this virus is very contagious."

It is the first closure of the border with Gibraltar, since 1969. Free travel between the two sides was only fully restored in 1985.

'Bug ship' sparks border row
03 Nov 03  |  Europe
Vomiting virus outbreak on liner
05 Dec 02  |  England
Superliner tries again
15 May 00  |  UK News
Brave face on cruise breakdown
03 May 00  |  UK News


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