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Tuesday, 8 February, 2000, 15:30 GMT
Mutual fears behind Spain's race riots

violence in El Ejido Tension in the region has been increasing

By Daniel Schweimler in Madrid

The anti-immigrant violence which has erupted in the region of Almeria in south-eastern Spain comes after a period of increasing tension, stretching back several years.

Local residents began attacking immigrant shops and cars after the killing of a 26-year-old local woman, allegedly by a young Moroccan immigrant.

Last month another North African worker was arrested in connection with the killing of two men.

There have been a number of protests against what the local population sees as rising crime in the region, which they blame on the immigrant community.

Police say there is no evidence that the immigrant community is committing more crimes than anyone else.

But that is how it is being perceived by many of the Spanish residents.

The immigrants, mostly from North Africa, have in turn complained to police about the increasing number of racist attacks against them.


Fireman Firemen tried to put out the fire in immigrant's properties in El Ejido

They have held protests calling on the local Spanish community not to persecute them all for the crimes committed by a few and have also demanded protection from the Spanish government.

The government in Morocco, where the majority of immigrant workers come from, has complained about the situation and demanded action by the Spanish authorities.

The violence flared in the town of El Ejido, the centre of a prosperous region where agriculture is the main industry.

About one-tenth of the population are immigrants.

They work in agriculture, picking and planting fruit and vegetables - low-paid and back-breaking work which Spaniards don't want to do.

Unable to work

Since the violence flared, they've been unable to work, too scared to leave their homes.

However, they need the work and the local community needs their labour.

In fact, the Spanish government said recently they would have to attract millions more workers from abroad if the economy is to maintain its current rate of growth over the next few years.

Spain is a country which has in recent years seen a massive increase in immigration, mostly from North Africa and Latin America.

It still has a far lower number of immigrants than partners in the European Union such as the UK, France and Germany.

New law

At the beginning of February a new Spanish law came into operation to protect the rights of immigrants - both legal and illegal.

It gives them access to health care and education for their children as well as protecting their employment rights.

The law was official recognition that the situation is changing rapidly in Spain.

A fact demonstrated dramatically by the violence in Almeria over the past few days.

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See also:
03 Oct 99 |  Europe
Spain seeks million foreign workers
16 Jul 99 |  Europe
Anti-immigrant violence flares in Spain
27 Sep 99 |  Africa
Morocco: The great return
04 Oct 99 |  Europe
Call for EU immigration clampdown
08 Feb 00 |  Europe
Spain struggles with anti-immigrant riots

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