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Row Over The Rock: Britain And Spain Feud Over Gibraltar

Tensions over fishing rights and border checks are driving officials in Spain and Britain to consider legal options in their newly escalated dispute over the status of Gibraltar.

In recent weeks, Spain has insisted on performing comprehensive border checks that slow traffic to Gibraltar, a rocky outcropping of land at the southern tip of the Iberian Peninsula, in a move seen as an answer to Gibraltar's creation of a concrete reef in disputed waters.

The British government is considering legal action against Spain that a Downing Street spokesman calls an "unprecedented step." Spanish officials said Monday that their border controls are a legitimate attempt to stop smuggling.

The spat has continued despite talks on the issue last week between British Prime Minister David Cameron and Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy.

From Madrid, Lauren Frayer filed this report for NPR's Newscast unit:

"Many who drive back and forth into the 2 1/2-square-mile peninsula of Gibraltar are now facing five-hour lines at the border. Spain has beefed up security in retaliation for Gibraltar's construction of an offshore reef — which Spanish fishermen say blocks their boats.

"Madrid doesn't recognize any Gibraltarian right to nearby waters — and may take its case to the U.N. London says it's weighing legal action as well. This, after the prime ministers of the two countries pledged last week to defuse tensions.

"But British navy vessels are en route to Gibraltar this week. The peninsula at Spain's southern tip has been British soil for 300 years — a claim many Spaniards have never recognized."

Those British warships include the HMS Illustrious, a helicopter and commando carrier, and the HMS Westminster, a frigate, which are scheduled to continue on to the Mediterranean. Along the way, they'll also stop at a Spanish naval base, according to BBC diplomatic correspondent James Robbins.

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Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.
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