Border protest over Spanish police pay turns nasty
By Gabriella Peralta and Maria Jesus Corrales
A protest by an organisation representing Spanish police and Guardia Civil officers flared into chaotic scenes at the border yesterday, as a number of Gibraltarian drivers were targeted and physically intimidated.
In dramatic scenes, a scuffle broke out after a local woman stepped out of her car to confront a protestor who had tried to hit her, only to be kicked by another of the demonstrators.
The protest, which had been authorised by the Spanish Government’s representative in the Campo de Gibraltar, was organised by Jusapol, a group set up less about a year ago to campaign for salary parity for police and Guardia Civil officers.
But Jusapol, which has no official union representation, was slammed by official police and Guardia Civil unions, who described the group as “populist and radical”.
Spokesmen for Spanish police union Sindicato Unificado de Policía and the Guardia Civil union Asociación Unificada de Guardias Civiles said the protest was unnecessary and, given its location, provocative.
And although Jusapol had been cleared to demonstrate at the border, it had been set restrictions not to block traffic or allow disturbances.
The Chronicle understands the Spanish Government is now considering formal sanctions against the group for allowing events to get out of hand yesterday.
Jusapol insisted the reason for protesting at the frontier was not political and instead due to the high concentration of people in the area – it was a public holiday in Spain - meaning their message would travel further.
But yesterday’s demonstration was backed by activists from the far right group VOX, which has long targeted Gibraltar with media stunts and boasted on its Twitter account that it was heading to the border to support Jusapol.
The Gibraltar Government said it believed their presence may have fuelled anti-Gibraltar sentiment.
"This demonstration was organised by an association of police officers and was totally unrelated to Gibraltar,” said Chief Minister Fabian Picardo.
“It had no place being organised in the vicinity of the frontier.”
“Whilst I always defend an individual’s right to peaceful protest, it is absolutely unacceptable that such action should be allowed to get out of hand in the way that it did.”
“Furthermore, I am reliably informed that extremists of the ultra-right wing political party Vox were present and active at the demonstration.”
“They were clearly present only to hijack the demo for their own political ends.”
At the frontier yesterday, Spanish flags were waved over Gibraltarians as they crossed, with protesters shouting “Gibraltar español” and harassing those who passed through.
One local woman, Erika Gonzalez, 35, was pushed and kicked when she retaliated after a protester struck at her through her car window.
“I was trembling, I was shaking, and felt like I was cornered,” she told the Chronicle.
“It was crazy.”
Local man Thomas Johnson, 29, told the Chronicle he was crossing the frontier into Gibraltar when he was harassed by people blocking the road.
Mr Johnson recalled how five to six protesters would not let him through and began pointing at the Gibraltar registered licence plate on his motorbike.
“I became frustrated and angry and started waving them to get out of my way,” Mr Johnson said.
He described how the protesters began shouting “llanito, llanito, afuera de aqui’ – “Gibraltarian get out of here” - and the incident became more heated.
“People were slapping my helmet and grabbing my polo shirt from the scruff of my neck,” he said.
“Then they started grabbing onto the handlebars of my motorbike’ so I took the keys out of the ignition,” he said.
“Once I was off the motorbike I was being pushed and shoved and started feeling very intimidated.”
“They were clearly looking for a reaction and I was giving it.”
Mr Johnson said he then kicked a speaker that was blocking his path and the crowd “turned” on him, running after his motorbike until he reached the frontier.
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