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AFGHANISTAN

Spain ends evacuations of Afghan collaborators and their families from Kabul

Spain said on Friday that it has ended its evacuations out of Kabul, just over a week after it began airlifting its citizens in the wake of the Taliban's takeover of Afghanistan.

Spain ends evacuations of Afghan collaborators and their families from Kabul
Refugees queue on the tarmac after disembarking from an evacuation flight from Kabul, at the Torrejón de Ardoz air base. Photo: PIERRE-PHILIPPE MARCOU / AFP

“The Spanish evacuation of its Afghan collaborators and their families has been completed,” the government said in a statement.

Two final flights landed in Dubai early Friday morning, it added.

On board were 81 Spanish citizens who had still been in Afghanistan, including embassy personnel, army and navy troops, four Portuguese troops and 85 Afghans who had been working for Spain, Portugal and NATO.

They will fly on to the military base of Torrejón de Ardoz, near Madrid, in the afternoon on an Air Europa plane, the government said.

In total, the Spanish armed forces have evacuated 1,900 Afghans, employees and their families who were working for Spain, the United States, Portugal, the European Union, the United Nations and NATO, as well as the staff of the Spanish embassy in Kabul.

Madrid used military planes to fly the evacuees to Dubai, where they then transferred to commercial flights to Europe.

On Thursday, Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez had vowed to evacuate “as many people as possible” out of Kabul following the twin suicide bombings at the Afghan capital’s airport.

During the hugely complex evacuation operations put in place after the Taliban seized power in Afghanistan, Spain flew out a lot of Afghan employees of EU institutions, who are housed at the Torrejón de Ardoz base before being distributed among EU member states.

Spain has also agreed to host up to 4,000 Afghans who will be airlifted by the United States to airbases 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.

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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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