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Diplomatic row over King’s visit to Ceuta, Melilla

2 November 2007

MADRID – (AFP) – Spain’s King Juan Carlos will pay his first royal visit to the Spanish enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla on the Moroccan coast, Spanish media reported Thursday citing official sources.

“The presence of the king will reaffirm Spanish sovereignty over the two autonomous territories” whose ownership has long been contested by Rabat, wrote Spain’s El Mundo daily.

The two day trip will begin Monday, Spanish media reported.

But even before the royal palace confirmed the news, Rabat expressed “strong rejection and clear disapproval” of what government spokesman Khalid Naciri described as an announced trip to two “despoiled Moroccan towns.”

“The government can only express strong rejection and clear disapproval of this regrettable initiative, whatever the motivations and aims,” Naciri said.

A spokesman for Spain’s foreign ministry defended the trip, telling Spanish news agency Europa Press that it was “an institutional visit to two Spanish cities that is part of internal politics”.

“Spain and Morocco have excellent relations, there are no problems and they cooperate in all fields,” he added.

Ceuta and Melilla are the only two Spanish regions not yet visited by Juan Carlos in his 32-year reign, daily newspaper ABC newspaper said.

The two urban enclaves have been under Spanish control for over 400 years and have become targets for would-be African immigrants trying to reach Europe.

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Subject: Spanish news