Gibraltar blasts 'neanderthal' Spain toll threat

A man fishes at a beach in Gibraltar, south of Spain on Aug 4, 2013. Gibraltar has sharply criticised a threat by Spain to impose a 50 euro (S$84) toll to enter or leave the tiny British-held territory, describing it as a "neanderthal approach" remin
A man fishes at a beach in Gibraltar, south of Spain on Aug 4, 2013. Gibraltar has sharply criticised a threat by Spain to impose a 50 euro (S$84) toll to enter or leave the tiny British-held territory, describing it as a "neanderthal approach" reminiscent of the tactics of the fascist era of General Francisco Franco. -- FILE PHOTO: REUTERS

MADRID (AFP) - Gibraltar has sharply criticised a threat by Spain to impose a 50-euro (S$84) toll to enter or leave the tiny British-held territory, describing it as a "neanderthal approach" reminiscent of the tactics of the fascist era of General Francisco Franco.

The British outpost in the Mediterranean, known as the Rock, said it was reacting to "belligerent" comments by Spanish Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Garcia-Margallo in an interview published Sunday in conservative daily ABC.

"The statements attributed to Sr Margallo by ABC are the most backward-looking and threatening since before the frontier closed and are clearly reminiscent of the politics and tactics on Gibraltar deployed by the fascist regime led by Franco in the 50s and 60s," the Gibraltar government said in a statement released late on Sunday.

Spain closed the frontier crossing with Gibraltar, just 6.8 sq km and home to about 30,000 people, in 1969. It was fully reopened only in 1985.

Spain's ruling Popular Party was "trying to manipulate the media to sustain its neanderthal approach", Gibraltar Chief Minister Fabian Picardo said in the statement.

Spain's foreign minister was quoted as saying of Gibraltar: "Playtime is over."

In the interview with ABC, Mr Garcia-Margallo complained that Gibraltar had unilaterally decided to build a concrete artificial reef in surrounding waters, which Gibraltar said was necessary to stop incursions by Spanish fishing boats.

In response, the foreign minister said Spain would consider the following: Introducing a 50-euro tax to enter or leave Gibraltar, bringing in money that could be used to help Spanish fisherman who had suffered from Gibraltar's new reef; closing Spanish airspace to restrict some flights; and reforming online gambling laws to oblige Gibraltar to use Spanish servers if it wants to operate in Spain, allowing Madrid to rake in taxes. Gibraltar is home to several large online gambling firms.

Spain ceded Gibraltar to Britain in 1713 under the Treaty of Utrecht but has long argued that it should be returned to Spanish sovereignty. Britain refuses to do so against the wishes of Gibraltarians.

The latest spat came after Gibraltar accused Spain of deliberately holding up cars entering the territory by searching every vehicle and creating delays of up to six hours.

Britain's Foreign Office said in a statement on Sunday it would not compromise on the question of sovereignty in Gibraltar, which overlooks the only entrance to the Mediterranean Sea from the Atlantic Ocean.

"Our differences with Spain on Gibraltar will be resolved by political means through our relationship as EU partners, not through disproportionate measures such as the border delays we have seen over the past week," it said.

The border delays ended on July 29 after British Foreign Secretary William Hague phoned Mr Garcia-Margallo to express "serious concerns" at the stoppages and Britain's Foreign Office formally protested to the Spanish ambassador in London.