Fury - Spain Closes Gibraltar
Border Over 'Virus' Ship


(AFP) -- Spain closed its border with Gibraltar after a virus-stricken cruise ship docked in the tiny British colony, sparking a furious diplomatic row with London.
British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw condemned as "unnecessary and disproportionate" Spain's decision, which has raised tensions over the territory that has been at the centre of a centuries-old tussle between Madrid and London.
The British cruise ship Aurora, on a trip around the Mediterranean, sailed to Gibraltar when Greek authorities refused to allow it to dock on Friday after about 500 passengers came down with a severe stomach bug.
"It's a preventative measure," a Spanish health ministry spokesman told AFP. "We obviously hope that this episode will be short but this is a precaution because this virus is very contagious."
Gibraltar authorities said however that only 11 people out of the 1,800 passengers and 800 crew on the Aurora were still suffering from the so-called Norovirus, which causes severe diarrohea and vomiting.
A long line of cars and pedestrians was queuing on the Spanish side of the border, made up mainly of several thousand Spanish workers who cross daily into Gibraltar for work.
Spanish riot police were also seen in the border area, while Spain had put down barriers to stop vehicles from travelling into Gibraltar.
Health officials were only to allow healthy passengers to disembark from the ship, which arrived in the territory's cruise ship harbour of North Mole early on Monday.
It is the first time Spain has closed its border with Gibraltar, which is situated on the northern side of the entrance to the Mediterranean Sea, since 1969 under Spanish dictator General Franco.
Free travel between the two sides was only fully restored in 1985.
"I regret the action taken by the Spanish government, which is unnecessary and disproportionate," Straw told reporters in London.
"The decision taken by the operator of this cruise liner to withhold the passports of those who go on shore in Gibraltar is a perfectly adequate safeguard to ensure that none of those people can go through the border control to Spain," he added.
Gibraltar's chief minister Peter Caruana also condemned the closure as a "gross over-reaction" in an interview with BBC radio in London.
"Spain is interfering with the freedom of movement between Spain and Gibraltar, two European countries," he told reporters here.
"If Spain were not claiming the sovereignty of Gibraltar they would not have closed the frontier. Had it happened in France or Portugal, Spain would not have closed their frontiers."
Gibraltar, the strategically important "rock" at the gateway between the Mediterranean Sea and the North Atlantic Ocean, has been a British possession since 1713.
The status of the territory has been a regular bone of contention in relations between London and Madrid.
Spain has been lobbying for years to recover the territory, but its population of 28,000 strongly opposes either a handover or joint Anglo-Spanish sovereignty, preferring to remain British.
The Spanish government said Health Minister Ana Pastor has travelled to a location close to the border with Gibraltar to supervise the disembarkation of passengers and make sure only uninfected passengers are allowed off.
Spanish health officials are attempting to obtain assurances from Gibraltar that passengers who are still sick stay on board the ship, operated by British company P and O, and that the virus remains under control.
The cruise began in the British port of Southampton on October 20, with stops in Spain, Italy and Croatia. It is due to return to Southampton on Wednesday.
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