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Spain slams British "interference" in Gibraltar sea row

Spain accused Britain on Friday of "unacceptable interference" for launching a diplomatic protest over a maritime dispute off the contested British territory of Gibraltar.

MADRID: Spain accused Britain on Friday of "unacceptable interference" for launching a diplomatic protest over a maritime dispute off the contested British territory of Gibraltar. It was the latest in a long string of diplomatic skirmishes over the tiny Mediterranean peninsula which has been governed by Britain since 1713 but is claimed by Spain.

Britain summoned Spanish ambassador Federico Trillo on Thursday alleging that a Spanish navy ship on July 16 tried to divert two commercial vessels heading to Gibraltar by wrongly claiming they were in Spanish waters.

The Spanish foreign ministry retaliated by summoning the British ambassador in Madrid, Simon Manley, it said in a statement after the meeting on Friday. The ministry insisted the ships had been in Spanish waters and said the Spanish navy acted legally. It criticised London for repeatedly summoning Trillo over Gibraltar in recent months.

"This latest incident represents unacceptable interference by the United Kingdom in the routine activities of the Spanish navy in Spanish waters, especially since none of the vessels was British-flagged," the statement said.

Britain's Europe Minister David Lidington said Thursday that the Spanish vessel's actions breached international law and branded it an attempt by Spain to disrupt trade in Gibraltar. The Spanish ministry rejected those claims as "unacceptable and absolutely false".

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

Relations became particularly strained last year after Gibraltar dropped 70 concrete blocks into the sea in July, in what its government said was an attempt to create an artificial reef.

The move also blocked Spanish fishing boats from working in key waters off Gibraltar.

London meanwhile accused Spanish authorities of deliberately tightening border checks that caused lengthy queues for workers and tourists crossing between Gibraltar and southern Spain.

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