Monday, November 05, 2007

Ceuta, Melilla Royal Visit Invites Ire

For the first time in his 32-year reign, Spain's King Juan Carlos is visiting the last two remaining Spanish enclaves in Africa - the cities of Ceuta and Melilla. His visit is the first by a Spanish Head of State there in 80 years, although the Spanish Prime Minister visited last year.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketHis Majesty arrived in Ceuta today via helicopter, accompanied by Queen Sofia; the royal visit is expected to last two days, and will continue on to Melilla tomorrow. Flag-waving crowds numbering in the tens of thousands surrounded the royal couple upon their arrival, although there were about a thousand protestors as well.

The Moroccan government has already recalled its ambassador in protest, and convened a special session of its parliament to deal with the situation. Fortunately, Morocco enjoys good relations with the West, and says it will seek a diplomatic solution to the impasse.

Morocco has been agitating for the two cities to be returned to its sovereignty, a move opposed by the majority of their citizens (Ceutians? Melillites?); al-Qaeda has also targeted the two as areas which "must be reclaimed" for Islam, which probably accounts for the visit. The cities have been Spanish possessions for centuries, since long before Morocco even existed, and enjoy a privileged status they wouldn't have under Moroccan rule, namely EU membership.

Spain is among Morocco's biggest trading partners (after France), and there are half a million Moroccans living in Spain; so why in these troubled times the Zapatero government - a Socialist one at that - would want to risk the terror attacks and other reprisals that are sure to follow is anybody's guess. Perhaps to lure jihadists resident in Spain out of hiding?

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