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Last Updated: Tuesday, 2 March, 2004, 18:39 GMT
Gibraltar's rich heritage celebrated
By Margaret Ryan
BBC News Online

Amid the pomp and ceremony of a service to mark 300 years of British rule of Gibraltar the message was clear - Gibraltarians want to remain British.

Gibraltar's chief minister Peter Caruana's resounding address to the congregation of St Clement Danes church in central London left no room for any doubts.

St Clement Danes
The bells of St Clements rang out after the service
"Gibraltar is as much a part of Britain's history and heritage as Britain is of ours," he told the service.

Whilst Gibraltar respected their neighbour Spain, it wanted to remain part of the "Great British family", he added.

At a reception at the Savoy hotel afterwards, he continued with the theme.

His assertion that he hoped Britain would not view Gibraltar as a "nasty political problem to be solved" met with a chorus of approval.

Later he told BBC News Online: "The wishes of Gibraltarians have to be respected."

Referring to the referendum two years ago which rejected joint Spanish-UK sovereignty, he said: "Gibraltarians have overwhelmingly declared that they wish to remain British."

'Status quo'

His speech had reflected the sentiments of the people of Gibraltar, he believed.

He certainly seemed to strike a chord with many within the congregation.

Troy, Jane and Hector Charvetto
When I hear they want to give Gibraltar back to Spain it is so hurtful
Jane Charvetto

Donna Seruya, whose father was a former minister for tourism and economic development in Gibraltar, said she had been moved by Tuesday's service.

"It emphasised the positive contribution of Gibraltar as a beacon in Europe of democracy, education and the rule of law," she said.

The service had not just been about celebrating the Rock's links with Britain, but also about reiterating that Gibraltar should "have a voice at the table" with Britain and Spain, she said.

Whilst she favoured the "status quo" as the way forward, she was not averse to an agreed solution with Spain.

Rousing hymns

Hundreds had gathered for the service where passions were running high as the congregation sang the British national anthem.

Afterwards Conservative leader Michael Howard told BBC News Online: "There should be no change in the status of Gibraltar without the full consent of the people of Gibraltar."

Baroness Thatcher
Baroness Thatcher attended the central London service
Even some of the stirring hymns chosen for the 300th anniversary of British rule, had their own message - with one saying "May the flag of Britain soar o'er Gibraltar evermore".

This was first and foremost a celebration of the rich heritage shared by the UK and Gibraltar, as was evident in the laying of the union and Gibraltar flags on the altar in this small but impressive church.

The service ended with the bells of St Clements ringing out amid the hustle and bustle of central London.

Proud of links

For the Charvetto family the day had been about showing support for Gibraltar.

Troy Charvetto, who emigrated to the UK from Gibraltar with his family when he was a boy, said: "The referendum spoke for itself".

Any talks over the territory's future which did not involve the Gibraltar government showed a "complete lack of respect" for the people of Gibraltar in his opinion.

Sgt Raymond Grach and Cpt Dominic Collado
The Royal Gibraltar regiment took part in the service
His mother Jane said: "We are British and that's it."

Her own mother had to be evacuated to the UK from Gibraltar during the war when she was seven months pregnant with her.

Mrs Charvetto was born in England and lived the first few years of her life in Wembley before the family returned to Gibraltar in 1944.

"When I hear they want to give Gibraltar back to Spain it is so hurtful," she said.

As for Mr Caruana, he was disappointed Prime Minister Tony Blair and Foreign Secretary Jack Straw had turned down invitations to what was the main UK event marking the 300th anniversary, although other members of the government did attend.

But for the crowd who gathered to listen to the chief minister after the service, there was no mistaking his message to Westminster.

He said Gibraltar was a "British success story in the Mediterranean and long may it stay so."

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