By Aziz El Yaakoubi
RABAT (Reuters) - Riot police broke up a protest by hundreds of Moroccans late on Friday against a royal pardon for a Spanish pedophile serving a 30-year sentence for raping and filming children as young as four.
In running clashes with the demonstrators, baton-wielding police prevented them from gathering in front of the Moroccan parliament in the centre of the capital Rabat, injuring several people including journalists.
The convicted pedophile is among 48 jailed Spaniards who were pardoned by King Mohamed VI on Tuesday at the request of Spain's King Juan Carlos, who visited Morocco last month.
"We are here to know who is responsible for that pardon. It is a shame, they are selling our children," Najia Adib, president of Don't Touch My Children association, told Reuters moments after she and her teenage daughter had been surrounded by riot police who struck them with batons.
The demonstration followed an online campaign by outraged activists. Protests were also reported in several other cities in the North African country.
Protesters demanded that the royal pardon be revoked and the Spaniard be brought back to jail. The government said the man had been expelled to Spain.
The Spanish Foreign Ministry confirmed on Saturday that the man was on Spanish territory and said his name was Daniel Galvan Vina. Earlier, victims' families had provided a different spelling of his name.
According to the official Moroccan list of prisoners released, as published by the Moroccan news website Lakome, Galvan is a nationalized Spaniard born in Iraq. The Spanish Foreign Ministry would not confirm his place of birth.
Hamid Krayri, a lawyer for families of the victims, said Galvan had been convicted 18 months ago by criminal courts in Kenitra, near Rabat, of raping and filming children aged between 4 and 15.
"He is a retired Spaniard who owns two flats here in Kenitra," Krayri, who is a member of Morocco's Human Rights Association, told Reuters. He said he had filed a complaint against Galvan three years ago when activists showed him discs containing footage of the Spaniard and his victims.
The royal palace made no immediate comment, but the Justice Ministry said in a statement on Friday that the pardon had been issued based on Morocco's national interests under the friendly relations between the two countries.
"That person is banned in Morocco's territory, he cannot return," Justice Minister Mustapha Ramid told Reuters on Thursday.
The king, like some other Middle Eastern rulers, often pardons prisoners on special occasions, such as Throne Day on July 30, but the decision to release the Spaniards at the request of the monarch of a former colonial power has riled many Moroccans.
"It is a big mistake. We want the annulment of the king's decision and apologies for the victim families and the Moroccan people," Abdelali Hamieddine, a member of the Islamist Justice and Development Party (PJD), the senior partner in Morocco's coalition government, said during the protest.
He said the government is not to blame because the pardon came from the royal palace.
"This is proof that our justice is a toy," said Hamza Mahfoud, one of the protest organizers.
(Additional reporting by Fiona Ortiz in Madrid; Editing by Andrew Roche)