Saturday, September 17, 2005

Caruana describes Malaga - Gibraltar flight breakthrough as “excellent news”

Chief Minister Peter Caruana yesterday described as “excellent news” the reports about a direct flight between Spain and Gibraltar after weather conditions and a radar under repair had forced the aircraft to divert to Malaga.

Responding to press questions, Mr Caruana said he looked forward to the successful completion of an airport agreement with Spain.

Mr Caruana said the direct flight from Malaga was a development that could be read in the context of the improved climate created by the tripartite process of dialogue. He recalled that Spain had previously agreed unilaterally to lift two restrictions – the ban on cruise liners and on diverted flights being able to fly to Gibraltar directly from Spain.

“The Spanish statement has held good and yesterday was the first such practical instance. I am very happy,” he declared.

A GB Airways flight to Gibraltar that had to be diverted to Malaga on Thursday was later authorised by Spanish aviation authorities to return to Gibraltar. It is believed this is the first direct flight between Spain and the Rock for over 25 years.

Informed sources said the flight from Gatwick was initially delayed and at approximately 7.30pm sought permission to reroute to Malaga as a result of poor visibility. Clearance was obtained from both local and Spanish air control and the aircraft flew to Malaga. Passengers were allowed to get off the plane briefly but a direct return flight to Gibraltar was authorised as weather conditions improved, and this was immediately resumed. The plane landed in Gibraltar shortly after 9pm.

The move has been interpreted locally and by Spanish PSOE MP Rafael Estrella as a goodwill gesture from Spain in the context of the negotiations taking place in the Tripartite Forum for a new airport agreement.

Constitutional Talks ‘Progress’

Chief Minister Peter Caruana was yesterday cautiously optimistic that a new constitutional text could be produced early next year, at the conclusion of the second round of talks between the Gibraltar Government-led committee and the team of UK officials.

“There is evidence of a lot of progress,” he declared to the local and Spanish media outside the Caleta Hotel. However, although details of the discussions have remained confidential, both sides have also acknowledged that there are still issues outstanding on which there had been no agreement. Mr Caruana will be raising these at a political level with UK Government ministers.

Meanwhile the Chief Minister reiterated that the object of the exercise is to produce a new constitutional text “to maximise the level of self-government” and is also modern and non-colonial. Mr Caruana said the content of the agreement will remain private and confidential until it is publicly announced.

For his part UK spokesman Dominick Chilcott said the process of drafting a new constitution was complex given the multi-layered nature of such a text. He also expressed confidence that the process was going well and would achieve satisfactory results.

Mr Caruana added that there should not be as much of a delay for the third meeting as there has been between the first and second round of talks.

Leader of the Opposition Joe Bossano and Liberal Party leader Dr Joseph Garcia were in a less optimistic mood and departed before Messrs Caruana and Chilcott read out the joint statement.

UK-Gibraltar Delegations Joint Statement

The joint statement said:

“The UK and Gibraltar delegations have this afternoon finished two days of talks held at the Caleta Hotel, on the proposals from the Gibraltar Assembly to revise Gibraltar’s constitution.

This constitutes the second round in these exchanges. The first round took place at Lancaster House in London on November 30th-1st December last year.

The atmosphere over the course of the two days of talks has been friendly, constructive and purposeful.

Without going into the details of the substance of the discussions which remain confidential, there has been a wide measure of agreement on specific revisions to all the main chapters of the existing constitution.

On other issues where agreement on the concepts and processes has either been reached or is close but where the drafting of the wording of the Constitution has not been agreed, the sides have undertaken to do further work and to table revised proposals in due course.

There are a small number of important issues where agreement has not yet been reached. The Chief Minister intends to raise these at a political level with UK Government Ministers.

The two sides have agreed to exchange views on and drafts of some of the outstanding issues over the course of the next few weeks. They aim to hold a third round of discussions shortly thereafter, probably in London.”

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