( AFP ) - Spain's king visited the Spanish north African enclave of Ceuta on Monday, drawing angry accusations of "colonialism" from Morocco which lays claim to the territory.
Tens of thousands of residents cheered "Long Live Spain" and " Ceuta is Spanish" as King Juan Carlos and his wife, Queen Sofia, landed in a helicopter to be honoured by a 21-gun salute.
Their trip to Ceuta and onwards on Tuesday to a second enclave on Morocco's Mediterranean coast, Melilla, has caused a major diplomatic row between the two countries, leading Rabat to recall its ambassador to Madrid in response.
"Spain must understand that the time of colonialism has ended, and for good," Moroccan Prime Minister Abbas El Fassi said at a special session of Morocco's parliament dedicated to the visit.
Rabat had already called the trip "regrettable" in addition to recalling its ambassador and later on Monday the Moroccan parliament issued a strong statement calling for talks about the Spanish "occupation".
"The Chamber of Representatives calls for the opening of a serious and responsible dialogue with Spain to definitively turn the page on the colonial occupation of Moroccan territories," it said.
"This dialogue should start on the basis of cooperation of mutual respect between the two neighbouring countries and friends."
Around 1,000 Moroccans held a demonstration against the visit at the Moroccan border post with Ceuta, with one banner reading: "King Juan Carlos, Get Out Of Morocco's Ceuta and Melilla."
Eleven Moroccan lawmakers from various political parties also delivered a protest letter to the Spanish ambassador in Rabat.
It is the first trip in King Juan Carlos's 32-year reign to the enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla, which have been in Spanish hands for centuries.
It also comes against the backdrop of new Al-Qaeda threats against Spanish, French and US interests in north Africa.
"I have an engagement to honour face to face with Ceuta, with the Ceutans, with the Ceutan authorities but also with myself," King Juan Carlos told the city assembly in a speech.
"I did not want to let any more time pass without coming to Ceuta to express to you our approval and our support," he added, without mentioning directly the row the visit had caused with Morocco.
Spain "cultivates a sincere friendship with its neighbours," he added.
Ceuta's schools and public offices were closed Monday and although the border with Morocco remained open, only those with work permits were allowed to enter the territory.
Some Moroccans working in the 20 square kilometre (12.5 square mile) territory of 74,000 inhabitants expressed concern at the tensions between Madrid and Rabat.
"I live thanks to my job in Ceuta, something that is not guaranteed to me in Morocco," said Mohamed Lakbir, a mason, adding that he hoped the row would not escalate.
"The tension is troublesome for us," said another resident called El Hadj Raouf.
The visit began with an official lunch in Ceuta before the opening of a sports centre named after King Juan Carlos.
The royal pair later left Ceuta and returned to Malaga where they were to spend the night before heading to Melilla further east down the coast on Tuesday.
According to Spain's El Pais newspaper, the decision not to stay overnight followed an urgent security appraisal of the visit by Spain's National Intelligence Centre (CNI).
But Interior Minister Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba told Spanish radio that there were "no specific worries" about the trip.
Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero sought to patch over the diplomatic damage at the weekend, insisting that Spanish-Moroccan relations were still "very good."
Zapatero visited the two enclaves last year -- the first official visit by a Spanish prime minister since the early 1980s. His visit also drew the ire of Rabat.
Ceuta has been in Spanish hands since 1580 and Melilla since 1496. Both were kept as military bases due to their strategic location on the Mediterranean coast.
Ceuta is situated about 50 kilometres east of Tangiers, practically facing Gibraltar across the narrow straits.
Melilla, further east along the coast, is about 12.5 square kilometres. Its 57,000 strong population is 40 percent Muslim.