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EU parliament approves Morocco fisheries deal

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

European lawmakers approved on Tuesday a controversial fisheries accord with Morocco, allowing EU boats to return to the North African country's waters after being kicked out in 2011.

About 120 boats, mostly Spanish, from 11 European Union member states can now fish off Morocco's 1,000-kilometre (620-mile) long coast for the next four years.

Of a 30-million-euro ($41-million) annual payment, 14 million euros will go to help develop Morocco's own fishing industry.

MEPs voted 310 in favour, 204 against.

"This is an excellent deal for both sides which fulfils all the conditions requested by the European Parliament in its 2011 resolution, by ensuring both environmental sustainability and a proper return for the EU budget contribution," said Spanish MEP Carmen Fraga Estevez.

In December 2011, the European Parliament blocked the deal, citing concerns over the terms and the legal position of Western Sahara, the former Spanish territory now controlled by Rabat.

In retaliation, Morocco banned all EU fishing boats.

Opponents said on Tuesday that they believed the agreement still did not properly take into account the situation in Western Sahara,

The authorities there dispersed a protest against the accord on Monday, according to witnesses and a Moroccan NGO (non-governmental organisation).

Morocco annexed Western Sahara after Spain withdrew in 1976 and Polisario fighters took up arms for an independent state.

A Polisario Front statement on Tuesday denounced the fisheries accord, warning that it could "destabilise an already explosive situation in the region."

The UN brokered a ceasefire in 1991 but a promised self-determination referendum for Western Sahara has never been held.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/131210/eu-parliament-approves-morocco-fisheries-deal