Spanish king starts visit despite Moroccan protests
Spanish King Juan Carlos and his wife arrived in the enclave of Ceuta on the Moroccan coast Monday for a controversial visit which has caused a diplomatic row with Rabat. According to AFP, the royal couple arrived to cheers of "Long Live Spain" and "Ceuta is Spanish" from tens of thousands of residents and was greeted by the local mayor.
Morocco last week recalled its ambassador to Madrid in protest at the "regrettable" trip to the two enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla which it regards as occupied Moroccan territory. Members of Morocco's parliamentary committee on foreign affairs, national defence and Islamic affairs were expected to stage protests at the Spanish embassy in Rabat.
The two-day royal visit by Carlos and Queen Sofia is the first in the king's 32-year reign.
The trip started with an official lunch in Ceuta before the opening of a sports centre named after the king. Juan Carlos will be visiting the other Spanish enclave, Melilla, Tuesday.
According to Spain's El Pais newspaper Monday, the government in Madrid demanded an urgent security appraisal of the visit from its National Intelligence Centre (CNI). But Interior Minister Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba told Spanish radio that there were "no specific worries" about the visit.
Ceuta has been in Spanish hands since 1580 and Melilla since 1496. Ceuta is a town of 74,000 inhabitants and some 20 square kilometres situated about 50 kilometres east of Tangiers. Melilla, also on the coast and 150 kilometres from the Algerian border, is about 12.5 square kilometres. Its 57,000 is 40 percent Muslim.