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Strasbourg, France (AFP) Dec 10, 2013
European lawmakers Tuesday approved a controversial fisheries accord with Morocco, allowing EU boats to return to the north African country's waters after being kicked out in 2011.
About 120 boats, mostly Spanish, from 11 European Union member states can now fish in Moroccan waters for the next four years.
Of a 30 million euro ($41 million) annual payment, 14 million euros will go to help develop Morocco's own fishing industry, the European Parliament said in a statement.
Ship owners will pay up to another 10 million euros to the Moroccan government to fish.
The 11 EU member states covered by the deal were listed as Spain, Portugal, Italy, France, Germany, Lithuania, Latvia, The Netherlands, Ireland, Poland and Britain.
Spain, however, has by far the greatest interest.
MEPs voted 310 in favour and 204 against the accord.
"This is an excellent deal for both sides which fulfils all the conditions requested by the European Parliament in its 2011 resolution, by ensuring both environmental sustainability and a proper return for the EU budget contribution," said Spanish MEP Carmen Fraga Estevez.
The MAP news agency cited Morocco's foreign minister welcoming the deal as opening up "large and promising" opportunities for ties with the EU and for the fishing industry.
In December 2011, the European Parliament blocked the deal, citing concerns over the terms and the legal position of Western Sahara, the former Spanish territory now controlled by Rabat.
In retaliation, Morocco banned all EU fishing boats.
Opponents said Tuesday that they believed the agreement still did not properly take into account the situation in Western Sahara.
The authorities there dispersed a protest against the accord at the weekend, according to witnesses and a Moroccan non-governmental organisation.
Morocco annexed Western Sahara after Spain withdrew in 1976 and Polisario fighters took up arms for an independent state.
A Polisario Front statement on Tuesday denounced the fisheries accord, warning that it could "destabilise an already explosive situation in the region."
The United Nations brokered a ceasefire in 1991 but a promised self-determination referendum for Western Sahara has never been held.
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