Moroccan truckers halt fresh food shipments to Spanish enclave in north Africa

By Daniel Woolls, AP
Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Morocco halts fresh food shipments to Spanish city

MELILLA, Spain — Truckers have halted food shipments from Morocco to the Spanish enclave of Melilla as protesters accuse Spanish police of brutality and racism against Moroccans who cross into the tiny city on the North African coast.

No fish, fruits or vegetables arrived Wednesday in Melilla — forcing its second food shortage in a week — after Moroccan protesters blocked trucks Tuesday from crossing the border to the city of 70,000. The truckers then decided Wednesday to stop shipments until the dispute was resolved.

Some 20 protesters on the Moroccan side were allowing only empty trucks and those carrying construction materials through on Wednesday, a spokesman for the Spanish Interior Ministry in the city said.

But the threat of a lengthy blockade eased with reports that Moroccan protesters had agreed to suspend their protest until the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan in September. Spanish media said the protesters reached a deal with Melilla’s food traders to allow shipments to resume Thursday.

Spain and Morocco are key allies, cooperating closely on fighting Islamic terrorism and preventing illegal immigration. Morocco supplies Melilla, as well as another nearby Spanish enclave, Cueta, with perishable products, and about 35,000 Moroccans cross daily into Melilla to work or shop.

But Morocco claims Melilla and Cueta as its own, and the protesters have been demanding Spain cede control of the cities to Morocco. Spain rejects any talk of giving them up.

Morocco also has made five complaints in the past month alleging Spanish police mistreatment of Moroccans, and accuses the Spanish coast guard of finding and then abandoning a group of ailing boat migrants off the coast. Spain denies the claim.

The countries’ relations were tested in 2002, when a handful of Moroccan soldiers occupied a nearby rocky Spanish island inhabited by goats. The conservative government of then-Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar sent in Spanish commandos to oust the Moroccan troops.

On Wednesday, Aznar flew to Melilla as his Popular Party, now in opposition, accused the ruling Socialist Party of bungling efforts to reduce tensions and avoid the Melilla blockades.

Aznar told reporters that the enclave and its residents were victims of “harassment and government neglect.”

The Spanish government said Aznar’s visit could hurt the situation, as Spain’s interior minister prepared to visit the Moroccan capital of Rabat on Monday in an effort to repair relations and discuss issues such as terrorism and immigration.

The government is “working on the problem, and it will be sorted out very soon, despite the Popular Party,” Spanish Development Minister Jose Blanco said.

Associated Press Writer Ciaran Giles contributed to this report from Madrid.

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