Spanish fishermen turn fury on Morocco

Andalucian fisherman, angry at the breakdown of talks on European Union fishing rights in Moroccan waters, yesterday blockaded commercial traffic to and from Morocco through Spain's southern ports.

The collapse of the sixth round of talks in Brussels on Monday was greeted with dismay by 9,000 Spanish fishermen whose boats have been laid up since 30 April, when the last fishing deal between Morocco and the EU expired. Three French lorries waiting at Almeria for passage to the Moroccan port of Nador had their tyres punctured before dawn yesterday. And in the main southern port of Algeciras two lorries destined for Tangier were turned away by pickets.

Fishermen at Malaga, and at Huelva, and in the north-western region of Galicia, meet today to decide on possible protest measures.

The EU proposed to reduce Spanish and Portuguese fishing of octopus and squid in Moroccan waters by 25 per cent over three years. Morocco wanted a 65 per cent cut now, and for all EU catches to be unloaded in Moroccan ports, a condition refused by Brussels. In addition, Morocco wants at least 35 per cent of European fishing crews to be Moroccan - something the EU will consider for high-seas fishing only.

Morocco also wants a fishing ban for at least two months a year to allow stock regeneration. The EU says the two-month rule already applies to all fish except tuna and to inshore fishing.

The EU Fisheries Commissioner, Emma Bonino, said yesterday that a package of EU financial help was being urgently prepared for families of Spanish and Portuguese fishermen facing further inactivity. Madrid is expected to extend existing grants of pounds 350 a month until the end of September for each fisherman kept idle.

Spanish public opinion is urging a firm line against Rabat. "Only maximum pressure on all fronts ... will make Morocco take these negotiations seriously," said El Pais yesterday. The Foreign Minister, Javier Solana, condemned Morocco for its "intransigent attitude" and warned that Madrid would urge the EU to review "the whole package" of its relations with Rabat.

Morocco says it will not be intimidated. A Foreign Ministry spokesman in Rabat said: "Morocco remains ready to honour its traditional ties with the EU but refuses to have a solution dictated to it under threats and will not allow itself to be influenced by blockades ... which we believe are counterproductive."

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