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Vox leader in La Linea rebukes Abascal over border tweet, reflecting wider anger

Santiago Abascal, leader and presidential candidate of Spain's far-right party VOX, gestures as he speaks during a rally. Photo: REUTERS/Albert Gea

Santiago Abascal, the controversial leader of the Spanish far-right party Vox, has been rebuked by his own membership in La Linea after he called for the closure of the border between Gibraltar and Spain.

Mr Abascal tweeted that Spain should shut the border as a “proportional response” to the UK’s decision to delay a European arrest warrant issued by Spain for Catalan academic Clara Ponsati, who currently lives in Scotland.

The tweet drew anger and derision in equal measure from many in Gibraltar on social media and was also badly received in La Linea, even amongst Vox supporters.

Jose Romo, who leads Vox in La Linea and stood unsuccessfully for the party at the last municipal election in Spain, publicly chastised Mr Abascal for his suggestion, saying he should have instead visited La Linea to learn about the “structural” reasons for its 30% unemployment.

He told Mr Abascal that he should focus his efforts on helping to attract investment to the Campo and address its underlying problems without resorting to “the same objective as always”.

“It would have been proportional to not say the first thing that comes to your head, without thinking of the unease this could cause for thousands of people in the Campo who are also Spanish,” he wrote.

Mr Abascal, he said, had spoken out “…without thinking of the effects his words could have on a town as vulnerable and ill-treated as mine.”

He told the Vox leader that “there is always time to retract”.

The PSOE in La Linea also hit out at Mr Abascal, saying his tweet showed “little to no understanding” of La Linea’s “economic, social or cultural” reality, or its relationship with Gibraltar.

“They don’t understand, and they never will, that people come before flags,” the PSOE in La Linea said in a statement.

The PSOE, which said La Linea’s council should also have condemned Mr Abascal for his comments, said it would back any formal initiative to reject the Vox leader’s statement, even to the point of officially declaring him “persona non grata” in La Linea.

Separately, members of the cross-border workers’ association Ascteg handed out leaflets at the border yesterday urging Spanish voters not to back Vox.

The leaflet’s message was clear and read: “Don’t vote for Vox.”

It said Mr Abascal’s call for the closure of the border would leave 9000 families out of work.

“Don’t vote for those who aren’t looking out for La Linea or its people,” the leaflet added.

On social media, Ascteg spokesman Juan Jose Uceda welcomed the statement from the Vox leader in La Linea, but urged him to be more robust in his response to Mr Abascal, which he described as “very diplomatic”.

Mr Romo, he said, should demand an apology from Mr Abascal and, in its absence, withdraw all support for the party.

At the last general election in Spain in April this year, a total of 4,212 people voted for Vox in the city, making it the third-most voted party in La Linea after PSOE (8,898 votes) and Ciudadanos (5,906).

That result was not repeated in the municipal election, however, where the party registered very little support amongst voters who swung overwhelmingly behind La Linea mayor Juan Franco and his La Linea 100x100 party.

And there were indications this week too that Vox may have less backing in other Campo municipalities than it was hoping for.

Vox held a rally on Thursday night in Algeciras and had booked a large hall for the event, clearly expecting large crowds.

In the event, only 500 supporters turned up.

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