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Spanish march in nuclear sub protest

Gibraltar - a rock of contention between Britain and Spain  

GIBRALTAR, Gibraltar -- Thousands of Spaniards have staged a protest march against a British nuclear submarine that has been moored in Gibraltar harbour awaiting the completion of repairs.

The protesters gathered in the southern coastal city of Algeciras on Saturday to demand the departure of the submarine Tireless, stranded since last May.

Carrying placards reading "Get the nuclear sub out" and "For our future," the crowds marched through the centre of the city to call for HMS Tireless to return to Britain for repairs.

The march was led by the head of the Andalucia autonomous regional government, Manuel Chaves, and supported by all parties and unions except Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar's Popular Party.

The submarine developed a leak in the cooling system of its nuclear reactor while on duty in the Mediterranean.

It is the latest in a string of protests against the submarine have been held since Tireless limped into Gibraltar.

Rekindled friction

Environmentalists, Spanish opposition politicians and local residents have demanded the submarine be taken back to Britain for repairs.

But Britain's Ministry of Defence has refused, saying it would be risky to move the Trafalgar-class submarine, which is capable of firing Tomahawk missiles.

The British, Gibraltar and Spanish governments have all given assurances that the sub poses no threat to public safety.

The case has rekindled friction between London and Madrid over Gibraltar, a tiny but disputed colony of about 30,000 people. Spain seeks to regain sovereignty over Gibraltar, which was signed over to Britain nearly 300 years ago.

The main repairs to the sub, which involve soldering in a replacement for a piece that developed cracks, were due to begin any day.

Last Tuesday police in Gibraltar arrested seven Greenpeace activists after they encircled the disabled submarine in a protest.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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Royal Navy

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4:30pm ET, 4/16

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