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Spain, Senegal Agree to Continue Cooperation on Illegal Migration Issue

Spain's prime minister met with Senegalese leaders Tuesday to discuss ways to prevent illegal migration. Both countries reaffirmed their commitment to stopping the flow of Africans taking the dangerous boat journey to the Canary Islands. Jordan Davis reports from Dakar.

Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero says closer cooperation with Senegal is a high priority.

Speaking to reporters after meeting with Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade, Mr. Zapatero said both countries agree legal immigration is the only way to guarantee migrants' dignity and prosperity.

Senegal is a popular transit point for the tens of thousands of West African migrants headed for the Canary Islands.

Mr. Zapatero says he and Senegalese leaders have agreed to ask Europe to extend air and sea patrols of the West African coast line through July 2007.

During an October visit by the foreign minister, Spain promised to provide work visas to Senegalese job-seekers.

When asked about that pledge, Mr. Zapatero said it was premature to talk about specific numbers. A quota, he said, would be determined by the demand in the Spanish labor market.

Senegalese officials' had announced just before the Spanish leader's visit that 4,000 visas would be issued by 2008.

Mr. Zapatero's visit to Dakar is his first to sub-Saharan Africa since taking office two years ago.

Mr. Zapatero said for too long Spain turned its back on development in Africa.

He said aid to the continent was fast becoming a cornerstone of Spanish foreign policy, and a way to prevent illegal migration. Spain has promised over $25 million for job creation in Senegal.

Authorities in Spain's Canary Islands say about 30,000 migrants have reached its shores by boat so far this year. That is five times the number that made the journey last year.

Many African make the trip in small fishing boats. Authorities believe several dozen died after two vessels capsized two weeks ago.