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Morocco, France End Visa Spat

FILE: Moroccans watch the World Cup semifinal soccer match between France and Morocco played in Qatar, at a public viewing place in Rabat, Morocco, Wednesday, Dec. 14, 2022.

France and Morocco announced Friday they were mending fences after months of tensions over visas, and said President Emmanuel Macron would visit the North African kingdom in early 2023.

Speaking in Rabat alongside her Moroccan counterpart Nasser Bourita, French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna said it was time to "write a new page together".

The two countries have been at loggerheads since September 2021, when Paris halved its visa quota for Moroccans in retaliation for the kingdom's alleged refusal to repatriate citizens living as irregular migrants in France.

The move sparked widespread public anger in Morocco and was labeled as "unjustified" by Rabat.

But Colonna said the countries had returned to "full consular cooperation" since Monday.

French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin was expected to arrive in Morocco's neighbor and arch-rival Algeria on Friday to discuss similar visa issues.

Macron and Morocco's King Mohammed VI spoke by phone on Wednesday night after their countries' dramatic World Cup semi-final clash in Qatar which France won 2-0.

Asked about the spiky issue of the Western Sahara, the two ministers played down any tensions.

Morocco sees the desert region as part of its territory, but the Algerian-backed Polisario movement seeks an independent state.

King Mohammed reiterated in August that "the Sahara issue is the prism through which Morocco views its international environment", demanding that governments "clarify" their position on the subject.

But Colonna said Friday that the kingdom could "count on France's backing".

Bourita added that Morocco had "never seen France's position (on the Western Sahara) as negative."