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Spain denies police role in 15 Africans’ drowning

February 21, 2014

MADRID (AP) — Spain’s Interior Ministry on Friday posted videos online showing police firing rubber bullets as African migrants swam into Spanish territory from Morocco, but denied this action contributed to the drowning of 15 migrants.

The police-produced videos show bullets striking the sea as migrants tried to swim around the fence separating Moroccan territory from Spain’s North African enclave of Ceuta on Feb. 6. Earlier, hundreds had tried to breach border security barriers by land.

Interior Minister Jorge Fernandez Diaz said police fired the projectiles in front of the migrants, not directly at them. He said all victims had drowned in Moroccan waters.

Spanish officials initially denied that rubber bullets had been fired into the sea. But Diaz told lawmakers Feb. 13 that police fired rubber bullets, blank cartridges and smoke canisters to try to spur the migrants to stay in Morocco. Diaz said despite the police action, 23 migrants did arrive in Ceuta, and he suggested this demonstrated that police had not used excessive force.

Ceuta is one of two Spanish territories surrounded by Morocco and the Mediterranean Sea. Annually, thousands of Africans hoping to reach a better standard of living in Europe camp on Morocco’s north coast and try to cross over onto Spanish soil.