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Gibraltar Top Of Blair's Agenda On Monday

by Robert Lee,, London

21 May 2002

Gibraltar was top of UK Prime Minister, Tony Blair's agenda on Monday as he met with his Spanish counterpart, Jose Maria Aznar, in an attempt to breathe new life into the faltering talks on the sovereignty of the Rock.

Politicians on both sides of the Anglo-Spanish negotiations have admitted that they are encountering 'real difficulties' in coming to an agreement, as a result of Spain's continuing desire for sole sovereignty over the territory at some point in the future, and the British refusal to cede control over the military base established there.

The confusion as the self-imposed deadline for agreement approaches will no doubt have delighted Gibraltar's 35,000 residents, the vast majority of whom are fiercely opposed to the talks even taking place, fearing that even if they reject shared sovereignty in a referendum, the terms of any Anglo-Spanish agreement will hang over the jurisdiction forever.

However, the UK government attempted to dismiss rumours that the talks were on the verge of collapse on the eve of the meeting between the two leaders, suggesting on Sunday that: 'Tomorrow is not make or break'.

Mr Blair's official spokesman told reporters at the weekend that difficulties were inevitable in this kind of situation: 'As negotiations like this go on, you do get to the difficult point and we are at that point at the moment,' he observed.

The increasingly heated atmosphere surrounding the talks, both in Gibraltar and the UK, can be doing little to smooth the process, however.

The Gibraltarian government recently stepped up its publicity campaign with a series of colour, full page advertisements in the British press, and the Rock's Opposition party is calling for a referendum of the Gibraltarian people prior to the conclusion of the talks, arguing that a resounding 'no' may weaken Britain's resolve to continue with the talks still further.

Meanwhile, in the UK, a recent poll of politicians revealed that 75% of MP's believe that the citizens of Gibraltar should be allowed to decide their own future.

Following Monday's talks, a tight-lipped Tony Blair admitted that no solution had been found to the problem, but continued to insist that there would be a solution.

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