Zapatero in Morocco for talks

Spanish leader discusses ways to combat terror


CASABLANCA, Morocco, - Spain's new premier, Jose Luis Zapatero, on his first trip abroad since taking office, held talks yesterday with Moroccan officials on ways of better cooperating in the fight against terrorism.

"We are committed to boosting anti-terrorist cooperation between our two countries, both victims of horrendous attacks," Zapatero told a news conference after talks with King Mohammed VI and Prime Minister Driss Jettou.

Zapatero and Mohammed unveiled a plaque in the city center in memory of 45 people who were killed in attacks last year in Casablanca.

It bears the inscription: "In memory of the victims of the May 16 2003 attacks in Casablanca," followed by the names of the Moroccans and foreigners who were killed in the attacks.

Forty-five people, including four Spaniards and 12 presumed suicide bombers, were killed in the series of attacks in the Moroccan economic capital, which targeted Jewish and foreign buildings and sites.

The inauguration ceremony was attended by Moroccan Islamic Affairs Minister Mohamed Toufiq; the country's grand rabbi, Monsenego Aaron; and Roman Catholic priest the Rev. Antoine Ryoubi.

The need for cooperation between the two countries in the fight against militants was underlined by the bombings in Madrid on March 11, in which 191 people died, attributed to the extremist group the Moroccan Islamic Combatant Group.

During his visit, Zapatero was expected to try to give a new boost to relations between Spain and Morocco, which became cool under Zapatero's predecessor as premier, conservative Jose Maria Aznar.

Newspapers in Morocco hailed news of Zapatero's visit, in the hope that a new era in relations between the two countries might be opening.

"Zapatero [is] in Morocco to put an end to the strain," stated the government-supporting Le Matin, which underlined the "symbolic" character of the visit, as the anniversary of the 2003 bombings approached.

For the socialist paper Al-Ittihad Al-Ishtiraki, Zapatero's visit marked "an end to eight years of Jose Maria Aznar in power, a period characterized by a cooling of relations between the two countries."

Spanish sources said that Zapatero plans "to turn the page of the difficult Aznar era" and "establish a relationship of strategic interest with a long-term vision."

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