The World This Week: Britain stands firm on Gibraltar

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The Independent Online
IN THE dispute over Gibraltar, Spain and Britain are caught between a rock and a hard place. Spain continues to claim sovereignty, as it has since Britain seized the territory in 1704, while Britain refuses to budge an inch without the agreement of the Gibraltarians - who spurn the prospect of Spanish rule.

It is hardly surprising, then, that Javier Solana, the Spanish Foreign Minister, sees 'no spectacular breakthrough' in ministerial talks on Gibraltar which resume today in Madrid after a break of two years. The Foreign Secretary, Douglas Hurd, will restate the position that British sovereignty, enshrined in the Treaty of Utrecht of 1713, is not negotiable, but both he and Mr Solana will have to tackle Gibraltar's own solution to the impasse: it wants autonomy from both countries and recognition as the 13th member of the EC.

Gibraltar's veteran Chief Minister, the irrepressible Joe Bossano, who has been railing against Madrid since the Franco years, recently rounded on Britain and warned of a 'major confrontation' if the colony is not allowed to pursue its own path to independence. He refuses to take part in any of the Anglo- Spanish talks, dismissing them as a ruse to return the rock to Spanish control.

Re-elected last year with a thumping 73 per cent of the vote, Mr Bassano enjoys the backing of Gibraltar's business leaders who are keen to encourage foreign investment and build up the territory as a financial centre. They see a prosperous future as an autonomous state.

The prospect of an independent Gibraltar is as abhorrent to Mr Solana as it is to Mr Hurd. 'We cannot agree to any solution which would in any way deny our . . . legitimate claims to regain sovereignty over this colony,' said Mr Solana this week. The most that may be expected is that similar meetings take place more frequently, and the possibility that the once-taboo notion of a dual sovereignty exercised jointly by Britain and Spain may be discreetly revived.

In Italy where, by contrast, all certainties are collapsing, politicians are busy trying to convey the impression of business as usual. A number of Italy's leaders are spending the week travelling, following the rule of thumb that at moments of crisis it is politically safer to be abroad than at home awaiting the early-morning knock on the door from the man bearing handcuffs.

The Prime Minister Giuliano Amato visits Portugal tomorrow to talk about European integration, Yugoslavia and the Middle East. President Oscar Luigi Scalfaro visits Brussels on Thursday and Friday with his Foreign Minister Emilio Colombo. On Thursday he holds talks with the Belgian Prime Minister Jean-Luc Dehaene and King Baudouin and visits Nato headquarters; on Friday he meets the European Commission President, Jacques Delors, and the Secretary General of the Western European Union, Wim van Ekelen.

Meanwhile, on Thursday, the trial opens in Palermo of Salvatore 'Toto' Riina for crimes involving the murder of other Mafia members and, while Rome burns, Italian designers open their ready-to-wear shows of autumn and winter fashions in Milan on Friday.

John Demjanjuk, condemned to death as the Nazi death camp killer 'Ivan the Terrible', begins a hunger strike today in Jerusalem to urge the Israeli Supreme Court to rule on an appeal against his sentence. He claims to have been a victim of mistaken identity, and that the real Ivan who gassed and tortured Jews at Treblinka death camp was one Ivan Marchenko.

South Korea lifts a ban on the trade in human placentas today, a decision expected to prompt a howl of criticism from conservative and religious groups who oppose the trade in human organs. Placentas have until now been imported, mostly from Canada, by medicine companies which use them for hormone treatments, skin nourishment creams and health tonics.

Talking of health, Malaysia introduces a law today under which people under 18 are banned from smoking, possessing, buying or selling cigarettes on pain of a two-year jail sentence.

If the rouble seems a disappointing currency in which to dabble, adventurous investors may care to consider the renminbi yuan. China relaxes its currency laws today, making it easier to move money in and out of the country. It is the first step towards making the currency fully convertible.

The archive of the French film director Abel Gance, renowned for his 1926 four-screen epic Napoleon, is up for auction in Paris on Wednesday and Thursday - with, one hopes, full orchestral accompaniment.