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AFGHANISTAN

‘Time is running out’: Spain warns it will have to leave people behind in Afghanistan

Spain will not be able to rescue all Afghans who served Spanish missions in Afghanistan because of the "dramatic" situation on the ground, Defence Minister Margarita Robles said Tuesday.

'Time is running out': Spain warns it will have to leave people behind in Afghanistan
Military personnel help an Afghan family after a second evacuation airplane carrying Afghan collaborators and their families landed at Spain's Torrejon de Ardoz air base. Photo: Mariscal/Pool/AFP

Robles said Taliban checkpoints and violence were making it difficult for people to reach Kabul airport to catch one of the daily flights on a Spanish military plane out of the country.

“We will evacuate as many people as possible but there are people who will stay behind for reasons that do not depend on us, but on the situation there,” Robles said during an interview with news radio Cadena Ser.

“It is a very frustrating situation for everyone, because even those who reach Kabul, access to the airport is very complicated,” she added.

“The Taliban are becoming more aggressive, there is gunfire, violence is more obvious,” she said.

“The situation is frankly dramatic and besides with each passing day it is worse because people are conscious that time is running out.”

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez (L) and Minister of Defence Margarita Robles. Photo: Javier Soriano/AFP

Spain has been evacuating its nationals and local contractors from Afghanistan via Dubai since the Taliban swept to power ten days ago.

Madrid has so far evacuated just over 700 people from Afghanistan but Robles said there were still “many people” who feared Taliban reprisal who needed to leave.

“We will keep trying until the end,” she added.

The Spanish government has consistently declined to give a figure for the total number of people it planned to take out of Afghanistan.

US President Joe Biden has set an August 31 deadline to finish the chaotic airlift organised by thousands of temporarily deployed US and UK troops, but has left the door open to an extension if needed.

However, a spokesman for the Taliban warned Monday the hardline Islamist group would not agree to any extension.

Asked if Biden should extend the deadline for US troops to leave Kabul, Robles declined to comment, saying only that she was focused on Spain’s evacuation operation.

But during an interview with private television La Sexta on Monday, she said Spain could only carry out its evacuation flights as long as Kabul airport is “controlled” by US troops.

A child waves an Afghan flag during a demonstration called by “Ca la Dona” feminist association in support of Afghan women and girls, in Barcelona on August 18th. Photo: Lluis Gené/AFP

Another 420 people are expected to arrive in Spain on Tuesday, the minister said.

They include 290 people who are already in Dubai and 130 who are expected to leave on a Spanish military plane from Kabul, she added.

In addition, Spain has agreed to host up to 4,000 Afghans who will be airlifted by the United States to air bases in Rota and Moron de la Frontera in southern Spain.

Under an agreement signed by Madrid and Washington, the evacuees may stay at the airbases which are used jointly by the United States and Spain for up to 15 days.

READ ALSO: ‘It’s Europe’s hub’ – EU chiefs to visit Afghan evacuation centre in Spain

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POLITICS

Gibraltar accuses Spain of ‘gross sovereignty breach’ over customs incident

Gibraltar on Friday accused Spain of a "gross violation of British sovereignty" after an incident on one of its beaches involving Spanish customs agents who were attacked by smugglers, during which shots were fired.

Gibraltar accuses Spain of 'gross sovereignty breach' over customs incident

“The evidence surrounding this incident discloses a gross violation of British sovereignty and, potentially, the most serious and dangerous incident for many years,” said Gibraltar’s Chief Minister Fabian Picardo in a statement.

The incident happened early on Thursday when a small Spanish customs vessel lost power while pursuing suspected tobacco smugglers off Gibraltar, a source from Spain’s tax agency which is in charge of customs told AFP.

After choppy seas pushed their vessel to the shore, the two officers on board were surrounded by a group of people and pelted with rocks, some of them weighing over three kilos (6.5 pounds), the source added.

The officers fired “shots into the water to try to drive away” the people throwing rocks, a tax office source told AFP, speaking on condition he was not identified.

One customs officer suffered a broken nose, the other fractured bones in his face, he added.

Videos circulating on social media appear to show several shots being fired during the incident, although it was not clear who fired them.

‘Reckless and dangerous’

“Should it be confirmed that Spanish officials discharged their weapons in Gibraltar, such action would be a very serious breach of the law,” the Gibraltar government statement said.

It called the incident “reckless and dangerous, especially in an area of dense civilian population, given the proximity of a residential estate in the area”.

The governments of Gibraltar and the United Kingdom consider that the events “will require careful consideration as to the nature and level of diplomatic response,” it added.

Gibraltar police and army officers used metal detectors on Friday to search for bullet casings on the beach, images broadcast on Gibraltar TV showed.

Picardo said Spanish law agencies know they can ask Gibraltar law enforcement to continue a chase into Gibraltar but “it would appear that they did not do so in this case.”

Spain’s foreign ministry “categorically rejected” the terms of the Gibraltar government statement as well as the “claims of alleged British sovereignty over the territory and waters of Gibraltar” which it contained.

Spain’s Budget Minister Maria Jesus Montero said the customs agency would “investigate what happened and will demand the necessary explanations”.

Post-Brexit talks

The incident comes as Madrid and London are locked in talks over Gibraltar’s post-Brexit relationship with the European Union.

The European Commission and Spain sent Britain, in late 2022 a proposal that would keep freedom of movement along the border of the tiny British enclave at Spain’s southern tip.

About 15,000 people, the majority of them Spaniards, commute daily from Spain to jobs in Gibraltar, which has a population of about 34,000.

Gibraltar has long been a source of British-Spanish tensions. Although Spain ceded Gibraltar to Britain in 1713, Madrid has long wanted it back, a thorny dispute that has for decades involved pressure on the
frontier.

Tensions peaked in 1969 when the regime of dictator Francisco Franco closed the border, which did not fully reopen until 1985.

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