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Moroccan protesters block Spanish enclave border

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MADRID — Moroccan demonstrators blocked trucks from entering a Spanish enclave Thursday, keeping out fresh fruit and fish and other products in a dispute over allegations of police violence and racism against Moroccans entering the city.

The protest was held a day after the kings of the two traditional allies spoke by telephone to try calm tempers in a conflict that began three weeks ago.

A senior Spanish police official in the enclave of Melilla who visited the border said protesters were preventing all trucks from entering, denying the city products that it imports from Morocco, such construction materials and produce.

"They are not letting anything in," the police official said on condition of anonymity in line with department rules.

The city's central market said no trucks from Morocco had come in.

Footage shown on Spanish television showed dozens of protesters gathered on the Moroccan side of the dusty border crossing, one of them speaking over a bullhorn.

Melilla is a centuries-old Spanish city of some 70,000 people, nestled between the Mediterranean to the east and northern Morocco to the west. It is about a quarter the size of Manhattan. Besides the bustling commercial flow, about 35,000 Moroccans cross daily into Melilla to work or shop.

Morocco claims the city and another North African enclave of Spain, Ceuta, as its own — but Spain rejects any talk of giving up the cities.

The demonstrators manning the blockade Thursday were also pressing Morocco's claim to the cities.

Over the past three weeks Morocco has made five complaints alleging Spanish police mistreatment or even racism against Moroccans crossing into Melilla. Moroccan officials also accused the Spanish coast guard of finding, then abandoning a group of ailing migrants in a boat off the Moroccan coast. Spain has denied any mistreatment.

The Spanish foreign ministry declined comment on the blockade, which started a day after King Juan Carlos called his Moroccan counterpart Mohammed VI to try to ease tensions.

Calls to the Moroccan foreign ministry in Rabat and the Moroccan embassy in Paris went unanswered. The Muslim fasting month of Ramadan began Wednesday.

An official at the Moroccan embassy in Madrid said she had no immediate comment.

Spain and Morocco are key allies, cooperating closely on fighting Islamist terrorism and preventing illegal immigration.

While the blockade could prompt shortages of some products in Melilla if it continues, the people living there won't starve. Much of Melilla's food is shipped in from Spain.

Relations are generally good, but periodically suffer from tension. The most serious break came in 2002, when the nations edged close to armed confrontation after a handful of Moroccan troops occupied a rocky Spanish island off the Moroccan coast inhabited by goats. Spain sent warships to the area and ejected the troops. The standoff ended after the United States brokered a deal to remove all forces from the island.

In 2005, another crisis emerged when several thousand destitute African migrants trying to make their way to Europe clambered over razor-wire fences into Melilla and Ceuta over the course of some two weeks.

In their conversation Wednesday, King Juan Carlos phoned Mohammed VI and they reaffirmed the "excellent state of relations" between their countries and promised to work to ensure that "small problems or misunderstandings do not upset this climate," according to the Spanish royal palace.

The official Moroccan news agency MAP confirmed the call and said the two kings agreed to meet at an unspecified date.

Associated Press writer Debbie Seward contributed to this story from Paris