Spanish PM, Moroccan king meet amid tensions over enclaves

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Spain's prime minister and the king of Morocco held talks in New York to ease tensions which had flared over two Spanish enclaves on the north African coast, the Madrid government said Tuesday.

Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero deemed the half-hour meeting on Monday on the sidelines of the Millennium Objectives summit at the United Nations as "very positive", it said in a statement.

The two nations have agreed to hold a "high-level" bilateral meeting at the beginning of next year in Morocco, it added.

Zapatero said after the meeting that he expected Morocco's new ambassador to Spain to take up his post "shortly". Morocco has been without an ambassador to Spain for several months.

He said his talks with Morocco's King Mohamed VI focused on immigration. Zapatero recalled that "cooperation with Morocco" had played a key role in stopping assaults by large groups of would-be migrants trying to enter the Spanish enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla in 2005.

Last month demonstrators in Morocco prevented trucks from making food deliveries to Melilla in a protest over alleged police violence against Moroccans entering the city, fueling tensions between Rabat and Madrid.

The arrest of 14 Spanish pro-independence activists arrested in the disputed Western Sahara added to the tensions as did a visit last week by the leader of Spain's main opposition Popular Party, Mariano Rajoy, to Melilla.

Madrid in May reaffirmed Spanish sovereignty over Melilla and Ceuta after the Moroccan government called for a dialogue on the matter.

Morocco considers the two enclaves, which have been ruled by Spain for some five centuries, as "occupied cities."

© 2010 AFP

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