MELILLA, Spain, Nov 6, 2007 (AFP) – Spain’s King Juan Carlos on Tuesday began the second day of his visit to Spanish enclaves on the north African coast in a trip that has drawn accusations of colonialism from Morocco.
Juan Carlos arrived in Melilla accompanied by Queen Sofia to cries of “Long Live Spain”, “Melilla Is Spanish” and “Long Live The King” from a throng on the enclave’s main square. The king later gave a speech at city hall before local officials. “As king for all Spaniards, it is my duty to visit Melilla with the queen,” he said, thanking residents for his warm welcome without referring to the diplomatic row with Morocco that the trip has sparked.
His visit to Melilla and to the enclave of Ceuta on Monday — the first of his 32-year reign — has provoked ire from the Moroccan government, which recalled its ambassador to Madrid last week. Morocco lays claim to the territories. “Spain must understand that its colonial era is over and for good,” Moroccan Prime Minister Abbas El Fassi said Monday.
The two enclaves held by Spain for around 500 years are “an integral part of our national territory,” he added. Madrid sought to soothe tensions Tuesday. Disagreement over the enclaves must not define “the whole relationship” between the two countries, Spanish Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs Bernardino Leon told Spanish radio. “A disagreement on one concrete point must not encompass the whole relationship,” he said.
The Moroccan parliament on Monday night called for “serious and responsible discussions” with Spain on the status of the “occupied” enclaves.
The Spanish press on Tuesday pondered the likely repercussions of the visit. “Rest assured, once the initial angry gestures of our neighbour — the demonstrations and the statements of disapproval — have passed, what will remain is the magnitude of the damage caused to our bilateral relations,” wrote the liberal daily El Mundo in an editorial.”Only time will tell whether the Moroccan royal family will decide to continue the withdrawal of its ambassador or continue its collaboration over issues like illegal immigration and Islamic terrorism,” it concluded.
On Monday around 1,000 Moroccans held a demonstration against the opening day of Juan Carlos’ visit at the Moroccan border post with Ceuta, with one banner reading: “King Juan Carlos, Get Out Of Morocco’s Ceuta and Melilla.” “I did not want to let any more time pass without coming to Ceuta to express to you our approval and our support,” Juan Carlos told the Ceuta Municipal Assembly. Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero visited the two enclaves last year – the first official visit by a Spanish prime minister since the early 1980s. His visit also drew criticism from Rabat. Ceuta has been in Spanish hands since 1580 and Melilla since 1496.
Both were kept as military bases due to their strategic location on the Mediterranean coast. Ceuta is situated about 50 kilometres (30 miles) east of Tangiers, practically facing Gibraltar across the narrow straits. Melilla, further east along the coast, is about 12.5 square kilometres. Its 57,000 strong population is 40 percent Muslim.