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POLITICS

PSOE in spotlight over Madrid chief sacking

Spain´s socialist party was thrown into chaos on Wednesday when its Madrid chief refused to step aside quietly after being sacked over allegations of misconduct.

PSOE in spotlight over Madrid chief sacking
Tomás Gómez with former Socialist Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, May 2011. Photo: Dani Pozo/AFP

Tomás Gómez, head of Madrid´s regional branch of the PSOE was dismissed on Wednesday morning after he failed to turn up to a meeting with party leader Pedro Sánchez to discuss an ongoing investigation into a construction project that Gómez led while mayor of Parla, a commuter town outside Madrid.

Under investigation is whether corruption was at play in the running of Parla´s hugely expensive tram project, the cost of which ballooned from €108 million to more than €250 million and pushed the town council into bankruptcy.  

Under pressure with elections due later this year and after opinion polls showed support for the PSOE had plummeted in favour for new left wing party Podemos, the PSOE executive took the unexpected decision to axe Gómez.

The PSOE announced that Gómez had been dismissed on Wednesday morning with sources explaining that the decision was taken "as a measure to limit damage to the party image."

But just hours after the announcement Gómez, who was mayor of Parla between 1999 and 2008, called a press conference to say that he would not go quietly.

"I am going to defend my honor before the party," Gómez told reporters. "This has only just begun."

Refusing to rule out legal action against the PSOE leadership he insisted that the move to oust him had been "undemocratic".

"In keeping with the weakness of his leadership, Pedro Sánchez has joined the right-wing in its efforts to wear me down in an attempt to strengthen his internal power," Gómez said.

"This is a huge mistake with disastrous consequences for our party, and all of the upcoming electoral processes," Gomez warned, adding "I am going to defend democracy and this federation, and my honor, if it is necessary, in the courts."

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POLITICS

Spain’s Sánchez in Morocco to mend fences after crisis

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez was in Rabat on Thursday to reset a "strategic partnership" despite criticism from within his left-wing government that it has caved into Moroccan pressure.

Spain's Sánchez in Morocco to mend fences after crisis

Sánchez and a dozen ministers are set to meet Moroccan Prime Minister Aziz Akhannouch for the first “high-level meeting” of its kind since 2015.

“Today we are consolidating a new stage in relations between Morocco and Spain,” Sánchez told journalists in Rabat, saying there was “enormous unexplored potential” between them.

His visit comes less than a year after he drew a line under a year-long diplomatic crisis by reversing decades of neutrality in the Western Sahara conflict to back Morocco’s position.

But Sánchez has faced criticism from both the left and right for the concession to Morocco, including from his administration’s number three, Labour Minister Yolanda Díaz of the hard-left Podemos party.

She has declined to join this week’s trip, in line with her party’s rejection of Sánchez’s “unilateral” U-turn on Western Sahara.

Spain’s right-wing opposition has also slammed Sánchez over the policy, with González Pons, a member of the European Parliament from the Popular Party, saying there was “no greater humiliation than bowing to the will of Morocco”.

Sánchez has defended his move as essential for Spanish interests.

On Thursday he called for new Spanish investments in Morocco, where his country is already the third-biggest foreign investor.

Investment deals

Around 20 deals were signed on Thursday to boost Spanish investments in everything from renewable energy to education, as well as doubling Spanish state support for firms setting up projects there.

Moroccan Prime Minister Aziz Akhannouch said the two countries “want to establish a new economic partnership in the service of development”.

The crisis between Rabat and Madrid had begun in 2021 when Brahim Ghali, leader of the Polisario Front which seeks independence for Western Sahara, was treated for Covid-19 in a Spanish hospital.

Weeks later, more than 10,000 migrants surged into Spain’s tiny Ceuta enclave as Moroccan border forces looked the other way, an incident seen as a Moroccan move to punish Madrid.

In March last year, Madrid announced a “new stage” in relations and said it backed the North African kingdom’s plan for the Western Sahara of limited autonomy under Moroccan sovereignty.

The following month, Sánchez paid a high-profile visit to Morocco and was hosted by King Mohammed VI.

The Spanish premier came under renewed fire this week for holding a high-level visit to Morocco without being hosted by the monarch.

Conservative newspaper El Mundo said the king “had shown his position of strength by standing Sánchez up”.

However, King Mohammed did this week invite the Spanish premier for a higher-profile state visit in the near future to “reinforce the positive dynamic” in their ties, according to a palace statement.

‘Honeymoon’

Cooperation over clandestine migration and terrorism is also high on the agenda during Sánchez’s visit.

After resuming cooperation with the kingdom, Spain said arrivals of irregular migrants on its territory from Morocco were down by a quarter last year compared with 2021.

Both countries faced criticism from human rights groups after at least 23 migrants died during a mass attempt to enter the Melilla enclave in June 2022.

Spain’s Interior Minister Fernando Grande-Marlaska is set to ask his Moroccan counterpart Abdelouafi Laftit to return deportations of irregular migrants to pre-Covid levels, according to a ministry official.

The visit comes as the European Parliament lifts the immunity of two lawmakers targeted in a Belgian probe into suspected bribery linked to Morocco as well as Qatar.

Morocco has staunchly denied any wrongdoing, but the investigation by Belgian police has sparked tensions between key European states and the North African kingdom.

Moroccan politicians and media have accused France, a staunch ally of the kingdom, of “orchestrating” a European Parliament resolution critical of Morocco’s treatment of the press.

“There’s a honeymoon between Rabat and Madrid, and a cold crisis” between Rabat and Paris, French-Moroccan journalist Mustapha Tossa wrote on news website Atlasinfo.

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