Spanish town erupts in racial violence

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The Independent Online

Police reinforcements patrolled the southern Spanish town of El Ejido yesterday, where violence erupted at the weekend when a woman was stabbed to death, apparently by a Moroccan immigrant.

Police reinforcements patrolled the southern Spanish town of El Ejido yesterday, where violence erupted at the weekend when a woman was stabbed to death, apparently by a Moroccan immigrant.

For two nights people in the town, which is 40km west of Almeria, attacked immigrants' shops, bars and cars, injuring at least 22 people. The unrest focused on where Encarnacion Lopez Valverde, 26, lived and where she died on Saturday. She was buried on Sunday, after which the violence resumed. A young Moroccan detained after her death had been receiving psychiatric treatment at a local hospital.

Demonstrators ransacked the office of an immigrant support group, flinging computers into the street and spraying racist slogans. A house where immigrants lived was set on fire and police helped two teen-agers to safety.

Yesterday residents blocked the motorway into the town with burning tyres and protested against the violence, sexual harassment and petty crime they attribute to North African immigrants who form the bulk of the agricultural workforce.

Most of El Ejido's 10,000 immigrants stayed at home or ventured out only in groups, some seeking protection at the police station. Shops and schools were shut.

El Ejido is a prosperous community based on fruit and vegetables grown under plastic sheeting, which are tended overwhelmingly by immigrants from North Africa, 60 per cent of whom have no residence papers. They are mostly under 30 and barely literate. Their wages are less than half those paid to Spaniards. Yesterday the farms were deserted.

Socialist and union leaders criticised police for not arresting anyone at the weekend, saying their passivity provided covert protection to racists.

But local authorities said arrests would have inflamed matters. Immigrant organisations demanded stronger measures from the authorities to prevent anti-immigrant witchhunts. The Interior Minister, Jaime Mayor Oreja, condemned the violence as "a disgrace for Spanish society".

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