Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Hoon Defies Spanish Fury at Gibraltar Celebrations; ROYAL NAVY IN CEREMONIAL MARCH TO CELEBRATE 300 YEARS OF BRITISH RULE

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Hoon Defies Spanish Fury at Gibraltar Celebrations; ROYAL NAVY IN CEREMONIAL MARCH TO CELEBRATE 300 YEARS OF BRITISH RULE

Article excerpt

Byline: PAUL WAUGH

DEFENCE Secretary Geoff Hoon defied Spanish anger over Gibraltar today by attending a Royal Navy march past to mark the 300th anniversary of British rule in the colony.

Amid scenes of high emotion, Gibraltarians cheered the British forces while Spaniards living near the border posted flags at half mast in protest at the celebrations.

Mr Hoon shrugged off a huge diplomatic row over his trip as he saw the Royal Navy formally granted the Freedom of the City of Gibraltar.

Tory leader Michael Howard also broke off his summer holiday to attend the ceremony in which more than 300 British servicemen took part. The colony's 30,000 residents, almost all of whom are passionately committed to British sovereignty, gave the troops an ecstatic welcome 300 years after the capture of the island by an Anglo-Dutch fleet.

But Spanish foreign minister Miguel Angel Moratinos last week summoned British ambassador Stephen Wright to tell him of Madrid's "profound disappointment" at Mr Hoon's presence. Mr Moratinos asked for the Defence Secretary's trip to be the last such high-profile official visit to the disputed territory.

Spain has long demanded the return of the strategic strip of land on its south coast. London and Madrid came close to a deal on joint sovereignty in 2002, but it collapsed after an unofficial referendum showing 99 per cent of Gibraltarians were opposed to the change.

Spaniards were infuriated when the Royal Navy frigate HMS Grafton kicked off this week's commemorations by firing a 21-gun salute as it sailed into port on Saturday - the first British ship to do so since 1954. Two Royal Fleet Auxiliary ships joined the Grafton for today's events; the support ship Fort Austin and the landing ship Sir Tristram.

British sailors were taking part in a Freedom Parade following a special meeting of Gibraltar's Parliament, the House of Assembly. In an exceptional gesture the Queen's Colours - normally flown only when a member of the royal family is present - were hoisted.

Other military events were due to include the simulation of an antiterrorist operation by Navy patrol boats. …

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