M Tension was running high Friday between Spain and
Britain over an artificial reef at Gibraltar, with Madrid saying it
was keepings its plans to impose a border crossing fee for access
into the British enclave.
British warships were meanwhile due to set sail for Gibraltar in what Madrid and London described as a routine military exercise.
The outcrop of 6.8 square kilometres on Spain's southernmost tip has long soured relations between Britain and Spain, which claims sovereignty over Gibraltar, under British rule for three centuries.
Spain recently angered Gibraltar by saying it may impose a border crossing fee of 50 euros (65 dollars) following a row over concrete blocks that Gibraltar placed in the sea to form an artificial reef.
Gibraltar says the reef protects biodiversity, while Spain says it disrupts fishing.
Spain has tightened controls of vehicles at the Gibraltar border, causing queues lasting for hours.
The two countries have launched talks to solve their dispute, but little progress has been reported so far.
Spanish Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Garcia-Margallo said Friday the government was still considering imposing a fee for entering Gibraltar.
It would not be charged from people crossing over to work, but would be used to decongest the border, Garcia-Margallo told the daily ABC.
The British Daily Telegraph earlier said a rapid reaction force of warships, led by the light aircraft carrier HMS Illustrious, will sail for the Mediterranean on Monday for a four-month deployment. Some of the ships, including a frigate, will stop at Gibraltar.
The visit was announced two days after Gibraltar Chief Minister Fabian Picardo demanded that warships be sent to stop Spanish incursions into British territorial waters, Telegraph said.
The Spanish government described the exercise as routine and said it had authorized the ships passing through Gibraltar to also moor at the naval base of Rota in southern Spain.
British naval chiefs also said the fleet was part of a long-planned exercise, and not in response to the diplomatic row.
Spanish officials meanwhile said a British European Parliament member had filmed Spanish police controlling vehicles on the border, accompanied by Gibraltar police.
Spain had taken action to stop such activities, the sources said.
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