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Spain's King Juan Carlos Visits Spanish Enclaves Also Claimed by Morocco

Spain's King Juan Carlos is paying his first royal visit to the Spanish enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla, on the Moroccan coast. From France, Lisa Bryant reports what might appear an ordinary trip is mired in controversy, because Morocco also claims ownership of the enclaves.

So unhappy is Morocco about the two-day visit of the Spanish king that it recalled its ambassador to Spain for an unspecified period of time. Rabat has long claimed Ceuta and Melilla as part of its territory, even though they have been under Spanish control for hundreds of years. The two enclaves have earned another reputation in recent years, as the destination for thousands of would-be African immigrants trying to reach Europe.

Moroccan government spokesman Khaid Naciri describes the royal visit as unfortunate.

In an interview with Radio France International radio, Naciri said although Rabat respects King Juan Carlos, there are certain lines that cannot be crossed. He says the facts backing up Morocco's ownership claim to the enclaves are solid.

Rabat was similarly unhappy when Spain's Socialist Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero visited the enclaves last year - the first official visit of a Spanish prime minister in two decades.

Relations between Spain and Morocco have improved since Zapatero came to power in 2004. So there is plenty of speculation about why the Spanish government is making these controversial trips. Some believe Mr. Zapatero is trying to show his patriotism, four months before the country's legislative elections.

Residents of the enclaves, which are little more than towns, are reported to be happy about the royal visit. The king and his wife, Queen Sofia, are to first visit Ceuta, before moving on to Melilla.