Morocco stops senator's march to Perejil

6th December 2007, Comments 0 comments

Move by the Moroccan government is seen as bid to avoid tensions.

5 December 2007

MADRID - The Moroccan government on Tuesday banned a senator from leading a march to Perejil Island to protest against Spain's continued "occupation" of the Mediterranean islet, which was the scene of a military standoff between the two countries five years ago.

Moroccan Interior Ministry officials said they would not grant permission for Senator Yahya Yahya to organise the march, ostensibly because he is not a resident of the province of Tetouane, the northern coast that lies 200 meters from uninhabited Perejil. Diplomats have interpreted the move as an attempt to avoid further inflaming tensions with Spain.

Yahya, who, ironically, is also the head of the Friendship Committee for the Spanish and Moroccan Senates, had invited members of the public to join him on the march - scheduled for next Monday and headed to the bay off which Perejil lies.

In a statement last week, the senator said the demonstration was intended to highlight Moroccan opposition to the continuing "occupation" by Spain of Perejil Island, which is known as Leila Island in Arabic, and, in particular, among inhabitants of the Spanish North African enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla.

"It is necessary to intensify the efforts to defend the Moroccan victims of Spanish colonialism," the statement said.

It called on residents of Ceuta, which lies 10 kilometres from Perejil, and Melilla to join the protest, and urged the Moroccan government to "reconsider its stance" toward the enclaves in the wake of a controversial visit to them by King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofía in early November.

That tour, the first by Juan Carlos since he was crowned more than 30 years ago, brought Spanish-Moroccan relations to a low point after years of gradual reconciliation. Moroccan King Mohammed VI even went so far as to issue a statement condemning the visit, while the Moroccan government reiterated claims to the enclaves, which have been Spanish for hundreds of years.

In July 2002, Morocco's efforts to exert sovereignty over Perejil by placing a group of gendarmes on the islet led to a diplomatic and then military standoff. The Spanish government of then-Prime Minister José María Aznar landed special forces on the islet and Morocco backed down amid US mediation.

[Copyright EL PAÍS, SL. 2007]

Subject: Spanish news

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