RABAT, Morocco (AP) — A Moroccan man climbed on top of the Algerian Consulate in the Casablanca on Friday and tore down its Algerian flag while an angry mob demonstrated outside, witnesses said.
The incident worsened the deteriorating relations between the two North African powerhouses, and Algeria summoned the chief Moroccan diplomat in Algiers to demand an explanation. Both countries are allies of the United States and Europe in the fight against terrorism in North Africa, but have long been regional rivals over the disputed territory of Western Sahara, which was annexed by Morocco in 1975.
A war of words began Monday when the Algerian president reiterated a longstanding demand for greater human rights monitoring in the territory. Algeria supports the Polisario Front fighting for a separate state in the resource-rich land, while Morocco describes it as an integral part of its territory.
Morocco withdrew its ambassador for consultations Wednesday, citing Algerian provocation, and the Moroccan press has been filled with articles criticizing Algeria. On Friday, while a crowd of dozens carrying pictures of King Mohammed VI of Morocco demonstrated outside the Algerian consulate, a man slipped through the fence, scaled the building and tore down the Algerian flag.
In an online video of the event, the crowd can be heard chanting, "The flag must come down!" and "Our only king is Mohammed VI!" Police arrested the man who had scaled the building. Amar Belani, the spokesman for Algeria's Foreign Ministry, sharply criticized the fact that the man was able to enter the consulate grounds, which were closed for a national holiday, and had the time to tear down the flag.
"The ministry emphasizes the obligation of a host country to protect Algerian diplomatic sites and personnel, according to international law," he said. "This serious act would not have been possible without the unleashing of hatred and mudslinging by a Moroccan press and political class to inflame the population against Algeria."
Associated Press reporter Karim Kebir contributed this report from Algiers, Algeria.