Spanish PM arrives in Morocco on visit to cement ties

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Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez arrived in Rabat on Wednesday for a visit aimed at mending ties following a deep diplomatic crisis between the two countries.

Sanchez and a dozen ministers are set to sit down on Thursday with top members of the Moroccan government.

They are expected to sign a string of deals including one encouraging investment, Spanish government sources said, as well as discuss irregular migration.

Prior to his trip, Sanchez had spoken on the phone with King Mohammed VI who urged him to “consolidate the new stage of relations between Morocco and Spain,” according to a statement from the Spanish premier's office.

Sanchez visited Morocco in April last year, drawing a line under a year-long diplomatic crisis that began easing after Madrid reversed decades of neutrality on the Western Sahara conflict to back Morocco's position.

The crisis had begun in 2021 when Madrid allowed Brahim Ghali, leader of the Polisario Front which seeks independence for the territory of Western Sahara, to be treated for Covid-19 in a Spanish hospital.

Weeks later, more than 10,000 migrants surged into Spain's tiny North African enclave of Ceuta as Moroccan border forces looked the other way, in an incident seen as seeking to punish Madrid.

In March last year, Madrid announced a “new stage” in relations and said it backed the North African kingdom's plan for the Western Sahara of limited autonomy under Moroccan sovereignty.

King Mohammed has invited Sanchez for a higher profile state visit in future to “reinforce the positive dynamic” in their ties, according to a palace statement.

After resuming cooperation with the kingdom, Spain's interior ministry reported that arrivals of irregular migrants on its territory from Morocco were down by a quarter last year compared to 2021.

Both countries faced criticism from rights groups after at least 23 migrants died during a mass attempt to enter Spain's Melilla enclave on the North African coast in June 2022.

The Spanish-Morocco rapprochement comes as Moroccan politicians and media accuse France, a staunch ally of the kingdom, of “orchestrating” a European Parliament resolution critical of Morocco's treatment of the press.

Morocco has also denied accusations of corruption involving European Parliament members.

Rabat is also considered an ally in the fight against extremism.

A Moroccan suspect is being held in connection with a machete attack on two Spanish churches in the southern town of Algeciras in January.

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