Relatives of those detained staged a sit-in on Friday demanding the release of those taken into custody more than 10 days ago during the demonstrations that took place in al-Ayoun in Western Sahara.

Moroccan police and soldiers have held a tight grip on al-Ayoun since Thursday, the scene of a violent crackdown following a series of pro-independence rallies last month, according to an AFP photographer.

 

The Moroccan authorities also recently turned back journalists and rights campaigners as well as a Spanish parliamentary delegation who travelled to investigate the reports of a crackdown on demonstrators.

 

Security forces were on every street corner, watching over a desolate scene of shuttered windows, deserted streets, while intimidated residents said they feared for their safety and were reluctant to talk to the press.


Doors smashed

 

Some residents agreed to show a news agency the wrecked insides of their homes, which they said were looted during the police and military raids launched in response to the demonstrations on 24-29 May.

  

Smashing doors and windows, television sets and beds, many families claimed the security forces robbed them of their jewellery and household goods.

The Polisario Front has called
for African Union intervention

They claimed that several dozen homes in their neighbourhood were stripped bare.

 

Several women claimed to have been beaten during the crackdown, showing bruises and cuts they claimed were inflicted by the security forces.

 

The al-Ayoun regional administrator, Mohamed Rharradi, said the raids had targeted homes that had been used to stash stones and petrol used to make Molotov cocktails during the recent unrest.

 

The unrest began as a protest against the removal of a prisoner from a local jail to Morocco.

 

Moroccan forces cracked down on the series of demonstrations that followed, prompting the Algerian-backed Polisario Front, which seeks independence for the Western Sahara, to ask the African Union to intervene.


Referendum
 

Sahrawi sources have said 50 people were injured and dozens arrested in the protests in late May in the huge desert region, which Morocco annexed after Spain pulled out in 1975.

 

Moroccan authorities have denied there had been a crackdown but said 32 people had been arrested for vandalism.

Morocco has described the events as an uprising by Polisario, which threatened last month to resume its armed struggle against Morocco if there was no breakthrough in UN-led peace talks in the next six months.
   
Polisario conducted a low-intensity guerrilla war until the UN brokered a ceasefire in 1991, with the promise of a referendum to decide the territory's fate.
   
Disagreements over who is eligible to vote have prevented the referendum from taking place.