Hundreds of Africans break through razor-wire into Spain

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More than 300 Africans have broken through a razor-wire fence separating Morocco from the Spanish enclave of Melilla in the biggest wave so far of immigrants seeking a gateway to Europe.

An estimated 650 people tried to cross, and about 350 succeeded, in the pre-dawn surge into Melilla yesterday, overwhelming police on both sides of the border. "There were just too many of us," said Fofama Issa, a 28-year-old man from Mali, sitting in an overflowing holding facility afterwards. About 135 immigrants and seven police officers were injured. Some of the Africans threw rocks at police or hit officers with them, Spain's interior ministry said.

The surge surprised a Spanish security contingent boosted by soldiers after similar rushes last week, including one that left five Africans dead in another Spanish enclave, Ceuta, and embarrassed a government that had been relying on new, higher barriers to keep undocumented Africans out.

"The government can handle this problem," the Interior Minister, Jose Antonio Alonso, said, adding that co-operation from Morocco was essential.

After scaling a three-metre fence topped with razor-wire yesterday, the immigrants clambered up a new, second fence twice as high, ripping through the mesh of the barrier. The weight of the immigrants brought down at least two 20-metre-long sections of the fence.

Hours after the surge, shoes, gloves, shirts and other pieces of clothing dangled from the barrier.

The Africans arriving in Melilla have often made treks lasting more than two years, working their way north from some of the continent's poorest countries, and have spent months living rough in Morocco while waiting to cross into Spain.