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"Gibraltar is Ours"

The people of Gibraltar have been protesting against talks between Britain and Spain over the future of the colony. They want to stay with Britain.

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The rock of Gibraltar

There hasn't been such an outpour of British national sentiment in years. But this demonstration didn't take place in London. The Union Jacks were flying in the port of Gibraltar on the southern tip of Europe.

Almost the whole population of Gibraltar was out on the streets this week. The people were demonstrating against London's talks with Spain over the future of the British colony. They reject any Spanish role in their affairs.

"Gibraltar is ours"

Police estimate that some 24,000 of the 30,000 citizens of Gibraltar took to the streets on Monday. Gibraltar's Chief Minister Peter Caruana told the demonstrators that the future of Gibraltar could not be decided "by anyone but the people of Gibraltar in exercise of their right to self-determination."

Caruana reiterated that the people of Gibraltar were vehemently opposed to the British-Spanish negotiations. "Gibraltar is ours. It is neither Britain's to give away nor Spain's to claim," he said, prompting an uproar of cheers.

Long-standing dispute

Gibraltar has been ruled by the British since 1713. But since then, sovereignty over the 6.5 square kilometer (2.2 square mile) peninsula has been a contentious issue between Britain and Spain.

In recent years, the issue has often cast a shadow over the otherwise friendly relations between Britain and Spain. It has even obstructed a European Union agreement on a single airspace. In November of last year, the governments of the two EU partners agreed to sign a deal to end the 300-year-old dispute by this summer.

Resolution brings in money

At the European Union summit in Barcelona last weekend, the EU agreed to give Gibraltar financial assistance if an agreement on its status is reached. The money would be used to develop Gibraltar's airport harbor.

According to Spain's El Pais newspaper, a first installment of 50 million euro ($ 44 million) would go into improving the connection between the port of Gibraltar and that of the city of Algeciras in the Spanish region of Andalucia.

Sharing sovereignty?

If Spain and Britain reach a deal on Gibraltar, it's expected that the two governments would be sharing sovereignty. Another option would be the so-called "sliding sovereignty" agreement, with Spain gradually taking over more control.

In either case, the people of Gibraltar would have to vote on the agreement in a referendum.

After this week's massive protests in Gibraltar, Britain's Prime Minister Tony Blair reiterated that London would stand by its guarantee never to transfer Gibraltar's sovereignty without the consent of the Gibraltarians.

But if 24,000 of the 30,000 Gibraltarians took to the streets this week, it doesn't look like Tony Blair will win that consent easily.

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