Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez “was not aware” of all the information and hadn’t seen the images of chaos in Melilla when he praised the Moroccan police, he said Wednesday during an interview with the SER radio network.
At least 23 migrants died and dozens more were injured when around 2,000 people tried to cross the wire fence separating Spanish enclave Melilla from the Moroccan border town of Nador on Friday. The U.N. has denounced the use of “excessive force” by authorities during the incident.
In the immediate aftermath, Sánchez said the situation had been well handled by the Moroccan police. He said, “I will never cease to express my support for the civil guard and the police,” and thanked them for their work.
Now Sánchez appears to be distancing himself from his original remarks. Asked if he still thought Moroccan police handled the incident well, Sánchez answered, “Well, we’ll see,” before adding, “It is evident that I regret the deaths of the migrants.”
“Let us not forget that here those responsible for the tragedy are the mafias,” he added.
His initial stance garnered criticism from the opposition Popular Party on the right, but also within his coalition from Podemos on the left, which joined calls for a probe.
Three investigations have been opened following the deaths in Melilla — one by the public prosecutor’s office in Nador, one by the Spanish attorney general’s office and another by the Spanish ombudsman’s office. About 140 Moroccan and 49 Spanish security personnel were also injured, according to media reports.
Sánchez said his government would provide “full cooperation” with the probe. “We must trust the institutions,” he added.