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Moroccans protest against Spanish opposition party

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CASABLANCA (Reuters) - Hundreds of thousands of Moroccans marched Sunday to protest against criticism by Spain’s opposition Popular Party of alleged human rights abuses in the disputed Western Sahara.

Waving Moroccan flags and banners, the protesters led by Prime Minister Abbas el Fassi chanted: “Popular Party, enemy of Morocco.”

Fassi’s Istiqlal party and 15 other political groups issued a joint statement attacking the Popular Party for its “unbridled activism against Morocco.”

They argued that the party had swayed last week’s vote of European lawmakers in favor of an United Nations-backed probe into violence in the former Spanish colony.

Moroccan security forces and pro-independence protesters clashed on November 8 in the disputed territory, which was annexed by Morocco in 1975. Several members of the security forces and civilians are reported to have died.

The violence, among the worst in years, prompted the Polisario Front, which wants independence for the territory, to call for an independent UN investigation.

The Popular Party took part in a rally in Madrid this month alongside leftist and trade union groups to denounce Morocco for allegedly abusing human rights in Western Sahara.

Spain’s Socialist government said stable relations with Morocco were crucial for Madrid’s interests in North Africa.

Moroccan political analyst Abderhmane Samer told Moroccan state television: “The Popular Party displayed activism against Morocco because it has strong links with big businesses which fear future competition from a prosperous and developed Morocco.”

Writing by Lamine Ghanmi; editing by Andrew Roche