Arrests in W Sahara over unrest

Morocco arrests 96 people accused of inciting violence during police raid on a squatter camp in disputed Western Sahara.

    Hundreds of people turned out in Madrid, Spain, to condemn the deadly Moroccan raid [AFP]

    Moroccan authorities say they have arrested 96 people accused of inciting violence during a police raid on a squatter camp near the Western Sahara town of Laayoune.

    Most of those detained are blamed for setting fires and destroying private and public goods, the Moroccan public prosecutor's office in Laayoune said in a statement on Saturday.

    At least three "are accused of threatening the state's internal security", the statement said.

    Half a dozen of those arrested have appeared before the military court chief, including Annaama Asfari, an anti-Morocco activist, according to a source close to the Saharawis independence movement.

    The Polisario Front

     The Polisario Front was founded in Zouirat, Mauritania in 1973 as a Sahrawi movement seeking independence for the Saquia el Hamra and Wad e-dahab territories from Spanish colonisation.

      The name of the Polisario Front came from the Spanish abbreviation of Frente Popular de Liberation de Saquia el Hamra y Rio de Oro (Popular Front for the liberation of Saquia el Hamra and Rio del Oro).

     The armed struggle turned against Morocco after the former Spanish colony was retrieved by Rabat in 1975 under a three-party agreement signed between Spain, Morocco and Mauritania in Madrid.

    Morocco raided on Monday the Gdaim Izik camp that housed thousands of Saharawis who moved there four weeks ago in protest against the deterioration of living conditions in the area.

    The raid left 11 civilians dead and 70 injured according to a statement released by the Polisario Front separatist movement in Algeria, while Morocco said that six of its security force members and only one civilian were killed.

    The violence later spread to the streets of Laayoune itself. Protesters, including women and children, said security forces attempting to shut down the camp used tear gas and beat them with batons.

    Strained relations

    Morocco said the camp had been stormed to release people being held against their will.

    Morocco also requested on Saturday that four foreigners in Laayoune, including three Spaniards, leave Moroccan territory as thousands of people in Madrid protested the police raid.

    Further straining relations between Moroccan authorities and Spaniards over the raid, Rabat also protested against the broadcast by a Spanish TV of "bogus" pictures allegedly falsely portraying the Laayoune violence.

    The photos amounted "to a manipulation aimed to mislead the Spanish public", a communication ministry official told AFP news agency.

    Media and rights groups also have said a number of journalists, many from Spanish media, have been prevented from going to Laayoune to report on the events.

    The clashes came two weeks after Al Jazeera was expelled from the country, for its coverage of a range of issues including the Western Sahara.

    Western Sahara was annexed by Morocco after Spanish settlers withdrew in 1975, but the Polisario fought the Moroccan presence until the United Nations brokered a ceasefire in 1991.

    The Polisario Front wants a UN-organised self-determination referendum, with independence as one of the options.

    Morocco has so far rejected any proposal that goes beyond greater autonomy.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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