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Spanish government under fire over deadly border breach

Spain’s leftist government came under pressure Wednesday after the BBC broadcast a damning report into mass migrant attempts to enter Spain’s Melilla enclave from Morocco that left at least 23 dead in June.

The “Death on the Border” documentary said video footage showed “at least one dead body” at the entrance of the Melilla border post, as well as other bodies being removed by Moroccan security forces.

Spanish authorities had confirmed this area was “under their control”, the BBC added.

The BBC’s Africa Eye documentary, which was broadcast Tuesday, said it was based on “dozens of public and private videos” filmed during the border breach on June 24, casting doubt on official government accounts.

The number two with the main opposition Popular Party (PP), Cuca Gamarra, demanded the BBC images be broadcast in parliament and that the interior minister be present to explain.

“We have to go all the way,” she added.

The demand for explanations came also from far-left party Podemos, the junior partner in Socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez’s coalition government.

“This report is a hard blow against the official version of the facts,” said Jaume Asens, head of the party’s parliamentary group, adding “there are a lot of doubts”.

Asens called for the a parliamentary commission of investigation to be set up.

The Spanish authorities said up to 2,000 migrants stormed the high fence that seals off Melilla from Morocco and engaged in a two-hour skirmish with border officers.

While scores succeeded in reaching the Spanish territory at the northern tip of Africa, Moroccan authorities said at least 23 people were killed in a crush while others died from falling after climbing up.

The Moroccan Association for Human Rights (AMDH) says as many as 27 migrants were killed.

It was the highest death toll in years from such attempted crossings into Melilla.

In the days after the incident, both Spanish and Moroccan authorities defended their actions saying the migrants had been violent and that reasonable force had been used.

But videos published on social media at the time showed migrants barely moving on the ground while Moroccan police beat them.

Spain’s interior ministry said it was “disappointing and surprising” that “very serious” accusations had been made “without any evidence”, and reiterated its support for Spanish police’s actions.

“Absolutely no one, neither (Spain’s) Guardia Civil, nor the (Moroccan) Gendarmerie, nor the Public Prosecutor’s Office, nor the Ombudsman nor the Moroccan authorities maintain that the deaths took place on national territory,” it said.

A BBC spokesperson said: “We stand by our journalism.”

– ‘No accountability’ –

The documentary, which includes interviews with dozens of survivors, also alleges rubber bullets were fired at migrants at close range and Spanish agents watched passively as Moroccan agents beat migrants.

The United Nations has denounced the use of “excessive force” by the authorities.

UN rights experts on Monday said it was “alarming there is still no concrete accountability months after” the deaths on the border.

Spain’s ombudsman said last month that authorities had failed to uphold international law during the mass border crossing because 470 people who managed to enter Melilla were returned to Morocco.

Under international law, migrants have a right to claim asylum and it is forbidden to send potential asylum-seekers back without assessing each case individually.

The Spanish enclaves of Melilla and Ceuta have long been a magnet for people fleeing violence and poverty across Africa, seeking refuge via the continent’s only land borders with the European Union.