Page last updated at 08:39 GMT, Monday, 30 March 2009 09:39 UK

Morocco expels five missionaries

Church and mosque in Tangiers
Several churches were built in Morocco during the colonial era

Morocco has expelled five European missionaries for attempting to convert local Muslims to Christianity.

The five women have been put on a ferry and sent to Spain - the home country of four of the five. The other is German.

Morocco prides itself on its religious tolerance, but it has also cracked down on Shia Muslims in recent weeks.

It is against the law to try to convert Muslims in Morocco and the interior ministry spokesman said the five had been caught "red-handed".

A number of video cassettes in Arabic were apparently found when police broke up the meeting, described as Evangelical.

In recent years a number of converted Christians have been convicted for holding illegal religious gatherings and similar offences in neighbouring Algeria.

But BBC Rabat correspondent James Copnall says Morocco has always prided itself on its religious tolerance.

But human rights groups have protested at the recent series of events targeting those apparently promoting the Shia form of Islam.

Morocco is almost entirely Sunni.

The kingdom cut off diplomatic relations with Iran at the beginning of this month, and accused the Iranian embassy of trying to convert Moroccans into Shias.

A school has been closed, and there have been reports of Shia books and CDs being seized.

The Moroccan authorities are adamant there is no link between this and the expulsion of the five Christians, but our correspondent says this is unlikely to convince everybody.

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