BRUSSELS (AP) -- Four members of the European Parliament, on their way to study human rights in Western Sahara, have been denied entry to Morocco.
They were headed for Laayoune, a city in a part of mineral-rich Western Sahara annexed by Morocco in 1975. The legislators had announced their plans in a letter to the Moroccan ambassador to the European Union on Feb. 25.
The ambassador's reply, dated March 5, arrived while the parliamentarians were already in transit, the leader of the delegation said Thursday. The ambassador's letter said the members of Parliament held "excessive politicized views against the interests of Morocco." It went on to say that Morocco did not expect the visit could "provide an objective, credible report," and the visit would not be welcomed.
Ivo Vajgl, of Slovenia, the leader of the delegation, said the four landed Wednesday in Casablanca, where they were met by local police, refused entry and put back on their planes.
"It was humiliating," Vajgl said. "It was absolutely unacceptable. It was a demonstration of totalitarian disregard of decency and democratic standards."
He objected strongly to the ambassador's letter and called for him to be banned from the European Parliament. He said the aim of the visit had been to meet with representatives of civil society and with local Moroccan authorities, as well.
European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso visited Morocco on March 1-2. Following meetings with Moroccan officials, Barroso praised the political, economic and social reforms the country had made. He added that relations between the North African country and the EU were excellent and would soon develop further with the negotiation of a free-trade agreement.
A spokeswoman for Barroso had no immediate comment Thursday on the expulsions.
The Moroccan Interior Ministry, Foreign Ministry and Communications Ministry did not respond to requests for comment on the incident.
Don Melvin can be reached at http://twitter.com/Don_Melvin