Moroccan protesters block goods from entering Spanish enclave of Melilla

MADRID (AP) — Demonstrators in Morocco blockaded a Spanish enclave for hours Thursday, restricting trucks from making food deliveries in a dispute over alleged police violence and racism against Moroccans entering the city.

The protest just outside the city of Melilla, which is claimed by Morocco, came a day after the kings of the two traditional allies spoke by telephone to try to calm tempers in a conflict that has been simmering for three weeks.

Police said protesters at dawn prevented all trucks from entering Melilla, interrupting shipments to the centuries-old Spanish city of 70,000 at the tip of North Africa between the Mediterranean and northern Morocco.

But 11 trucks carrying fruit and vegetables were allowed over the border in the afternoon, according to Gabriel Escobar, the Interior Ministry's top official in the city.

An official in Escobar's office said later it was not clear if more trucks would be allowed to cross Thursday. The official spoke on condition of anonymity in keeping with department policy.

Protest leader Mounaim Chaouki said the blockade will be lifted for the Muslim holy day on Friday and over the weekend but ramped up again Monday to prevent trucks with construction material from crossing, according to Spain's El Mundo newspaper.

He said protesters on Tuesday will prevent Moroccan women who work as maids in Melilla from crossing over, the newspaper reported. Calls to Chaouki's cell phone went unanswered Thursday.

Morocco supplies the Spanish enclave with perishable products, and about 35,000 Moroccans cross daily into Melilla to work or shop.

Morocco claims the city and another North African enclave of Spain, Ceuta, as its own — but Spain rejects any talk of giving up the cities. Many Moroccans enter the enclaves by day to work, then go home at night.

The demonstrators manning the blockade Thursday also were pressing Morocco's claim to the cities.

Morocco has made five complaints over the last three weeks alleging Spanish police mistreatment of and racism against Moroccans crossing into Melilla. Moroccan officials also accused the Spanish coast guard of finding, then abandoning, a group of ailing migrants in a boat off the Moroccan coast. Spain has denied the claims.

The Spanish foreign ministry declined comment on the blockade, which started a day after King Juan Carlos called his Moroccan counterpart Mohammed VI to try to ease tensions.

Calls to Morocco's foreign ministry in Rabat went unanswered, and an official at the Moroccan embassy in Madrid had no immediate comment. She declined to give her name in keeping with policy.

Spain and Morocco are key allies, cooperating closely on fighting Islamist terrorism and preventing illegal immigration.

Relations between Spain and Morocco are generally good, despite periodic bouts of tension. The most serious break came in 2002, when the nations edged close to armed confrontation after a handful of Moroccan soldiers occupied a rocky Spanish island off the Moroccan coast inhabited by goats.


Associated Press writer Debbie Seward contributed to this story from Paris.