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1982: Spain opens border with the Rock

VIDEO : Jubilation as Spain opens gates with Gibraltar

The gates isolating the people of Gibraltar from Spain have been opened to pedestrians after 13 years.

Spain's new socialist government opened the frontier for "humanitarian reasons" at one minute after midnight this morning.

A Spanish police official in plain clothes unceremoniously unlocked the gates for both sides.

Carmen Ward, 35, married to a British worker in Gibraltar - known as the Rock - was the first Gibraltarian to come through on foot.

Good will gesture

She said: "This is a humanitarian step and it ought to have been taken long ago."

A crowd of several thousand sightseers in festive spirit gathered to celebrate the momentous occasion as students performed an impromptu live music session.

There were several hundred Gibraltarian well wishers on the other side.

Despite the good will gesture by the Spanish authorities the frontier has opened under tight restrictions which include a ban on any British or foreign tourists crossing.

Only Spanish citizens or inhabitants of Gibraltar are allowed across.

Cars and commercial goods remain banned.

The government of Gibraltar has reacted angrily to the restrictions but its plans to retaliate by closing the gates at night were overruled by the British Government.

The opening ends a period of isolation begun by General Franco in 1969 during the siege of Gibraltar.

The 25,000 inhabitants have been divided from Spain ever since.

Historic

The historic event has been delayed twice already due to the elections in Spain earlier this year.

Before that Spain's backing for Argentina during the Falklands war caused the opening to be postponed.

Today's opening has been met with caution by inhabitants of the Rock who remain suspicious of Spain's plans for sovereignty.

The gates were opened briefly ahead of the official opening two nights ago as part of a Spanish "seasonal gesture of good will" to allow through to Spain a group of Portuguese seamen rescued after their ship sank off Gibraltar.

In Context
The gates were officially opened to everyone in 1985.

Inhabitants of Gibraltar said Spain had relaxed its laws on the frontier to gain support for its bid to enter the European Community which it achieved in 1986.

The bitter battle over the sovereignty of the Rock continues.

It is relentlessly contested by the majority of the 30,000 inhabitants of the Rock who wish to remain British.

In 2002, talks between Britain and Spain continued with new vigour but an announcement the countries could share sovereignty was met with angry protests on the streets of Gibraltar.

A referendum was held on 7 November that year in which an overwhelming majority of Gibraltarians - 98.97% - voted not to share British sovereignty with Spain.

But both the Spanish and British governments have said the result has no legal weight.

The British and Spanish Foreign Secretaries met in December 2004 with a view to opening a new dialogue on the Rock's future.


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