Spain waiting for answers over W. Sahara arrests: Zapatero

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Spain is awaiting details from Morocco after the weekend arrests by police of 11 Spanish pro-independence activists in the Western Sahara, Prime Minister Jose Luiz Rodriguez Zapatero said Monday.

Speaking in a televised press conference from China, where he is on an official visit, Zapatero said his government was concerned by the arrests and was waiting for "explanations and adequate information" from Rabat.

However, he added, "it is an essential principle of foreign policy to maintain a good relationship with neighbouring countries like Morocco."

Western Sahara, a former Spanish colony annexed by Morocco in 1975, is at the centre of conflict between the separatist Algerian-backed Polisario Front and Rabat, which is willing to accord broad autonomy, but not independence.

Moroccan police arrested 11 activists from the SaharAcciones association, which supports Polisario, on Saturday evening in Laayoune, the chief town of Western Sahara.

The Spaniards were making an attempted protest "in favour of the Sahrawi people and respecting human rights."

The Canary Islands-based SaharAcciones accused Moroccan police of "savagely attacking" the group, before arresting them and driving them to the police station.

It also alleged that two members suffered injuries to their heads and bodies from "kicks and punches."

Spain's foreign ministry confirmed on Sunday that 11 activists were arrested by Moroccan police and detained for several hours at a Laayoune police station.

It also confirmed that two members of the group needed medical attention for injuries, but did not state the cause of the injuries.

The group arrived back in the Canary Islands on Monday morning and said that it would file a lawsuit with Spanish authorities over the arrests.

© 2010 AFP

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