Zapatero pays historic visit to Spain's Africa territories

31st January 2006, Comments 0 comments

31 January 2006, MADRID – The president arrived in Melilla on Tuesday for a two-day visit to the part of North Africa which is Spanish territory.

31 January 2006

MADRID – The president arrived in Melilla on Tuesday for a two-day visit to the part of North Africa which is Spanish territory.

He was accompanied by public administration minister Jordi Sevilla and health minister Elena Salgado. On Wednesday, he is due to continue his official visit in Ceuta.

Both Melilla and Ceuta are Spanish autonomous communities, but Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero's trip there is the first official visit made in 25 years. The last one was by the Spanish president Adolfo Suarez.

No members of the royal family have ever paid a visit and the last president, Jose Maria Aznar, only went when he was electioneering.

Some of the Moroccan press have branded Zapatero's visit provocative. The newspaper L'Opinion described the two autonomous communities as "occupied, Moroccan cities".

Historically, Morocco has insisted that Melilla and Ceuta are part of Moroccan territory and have demanded their return, however, in recent years the Moroccan government has softened its approach, stating the issue was "not a priority". The Moroccan government has remained silent over Zapatero's visit and Zapatero's government has denied the move could damage relations between the two countries.

Zapatero had promised his visit at the end of last year, in response to concerns about immigrants regularly trying to cross the border from Morocco into Melilla, and from there into mainland Spain and the rest of Europe.

On Tuesday, Zapatero met Melilla's president Juan Jose Imbroda. During a press conference, he insisted the city was "a priority" in terms of Spanish state investment, announcing EUR 55 million of funding for a new hospital.

He also pledged to reinforce security and tackle problems of immigration.

Interior minister Jose Antonio Alonso used the visit to announce that a three-dimensional wall at Melilla's border would be built before the spring in an effort to stop illegal immigration.

At Melilla's assembly house, Zapatero was greeted by around hundred people, applauding him.He also visited a social centre for the elderly and the Temporary Stay Centre for Immigrants (CETI) where he was met with cheers from asylum-seekers and requests to grant them papers.

On Monday afternoon, Zapatero was due to travel to Ceuta where he will meet the city's president Jose Vivas.

[Copyright EFE with Expatica]

Subject: Spanish news

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