EU lawmakers block Morocco-Western Sahara fishing deal

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European Parliament lawmakers blocked Wednesday the extension by 12 months of controversial special access for EU fishermen to Moroccan waters, until the interests of disputed Western Sahara trawlers are taken on board.

The vote, passed by 326 to 296, was taken on the eve of talks between European Union fisheries ministers in Brussels, set to agree quotas for catches in the Atlantic, North and Baltic Seas as well as the Mediterranean.

The governments of the EU's 27 states agreed in July to extend an agreement allowing EU boats to fish more off Morocco in exchange for annual funding, which campaigners say breaches international law as regards Western Sahara.

Morocco annexed Western Sahara in 1976 after a Spanish withdrawal, and Polisario fighters took up arms for an independent state.

The UN brokered a ceasefire in 1991 but a promised self-determination referendum has never been held.

Finnish liberal MEP Carl Haglund said some 36 million euros ($46 million) was "a waste of taxpayers' funds" with no environmental benefit and no economic impact either on the EU or on Morocco.

Others said the withdrawal of the package sent the wrong signal to Morocco for an EU that portrays itself as a big backer of the Arab Spring.

© 2011 AFP

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