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New expulsions of Spanish citizens from Western Sahara

Rabat accuses Spanish media of pushing "hate campaign"

Morocco continued to expel Spanish citizens from Western Sahara on Sunday, including a radio journalist who was broadcasting from the regional capital of Laâyoune. The moves came as Rabat charged that some Spanish media, including EL PAÍS, are publicizing "racist and hateful" information.

Javier Sopeña, 25, and Silvia García, 24, both Spanish human rights activists for the group Sáhara Thawra, emerged from hiding after they were given guarantees through the intervention of the Spanish Embassy that they could safely leave Western Sahara. They were picked up at a Laâyoune church by Mariano Collado, responsible for Spanish heritage in Western Sahara, and taken to the city's Casa España cultural center under police guard.

At Laâyoune airport, the two boarded a Canaries-bound plane along with Guillaume Bontoux, a reporter for state broadcaster RNE's Radio Exterior de España's French service, who was also thrown out of the country.

On Thursday, Morocco expelled three reporters from the privately owned SER radio network who were broadcasting from Laâyoune.

The government of Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero had asked Morocco to lift its restrictions on Spanish journalists.

Laâyoune is under curfew following days of deadly riots. Violence broke out when Moroccan authorities evicted about 20,000 Sahrawi people from a protest camp on the outskirts of the city last Monday.

Khalid Naciri, Morocco's government spokesman, blamed the Spanish press for making false claims about the situation in the Western Sahara. "We are seeing a public lynching campaign that is based on hate and the incitement of violence," Naciri told a news conference on Saturday. "Spanish public opinion is also being seriously manipulated with the aim of exacerbating hateful and racist feelings toward Morocco."

He particularly singled out Efe news agency for "exaggerating" the number of deaths in the Western Sahara, and circulating a photograph over the weekend of dead Palestinian children taken after a 2006 bombing attack on Gaza and passing it off as Sahrawi victims.

It is not known how many people have died in the uprisings. Pro-independence Polisario say as many as 19 people been killed.