See also:
» 05.03.2011 - Peaceful Western Sahara anti-government protests
» 28.02.2011 - Even Sahrawis plan pro-democracy protests
» 11.10.2010 - Sahrawis awake to government opposition
» 22.12.2008 - Morocco repress Sahrawi population - HRW
» 05.10.2006 - UN slams Morocco on abuses in Western Sahara
» 24.11.2005 - Amnesty denounces abuse in Western Sahara
» 25.07.2005 - Prominent Sahrawi activists "tortured in prison"
» 21.07.2005 - Western Sahara activists jailed for protests

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Western Sahara
Human rights | Politics

Western Sahara riot met with mass arrests

Sahrawi protesters in the streets of El Aaiun

© afrol News
afrol News, 27 May
- The "new Intifada" in Moroccan-occupied Western Sahara, going on since Monday, is gathering more and more protesters every day. Armed Moroccan security forces have answered the demonstrators with tear gas and mass arrests of civilians. Military reinforcements are being sent in to El Aaiun from southern Morocco as locally stationed troops fear the situation is getting out of control.

The new and large wave of riots in Western Sahara's capital El Aaiun started small and peacefully on Monday, as well-known human rights activists protested against limited freedoms. For unknown reasons, however, the activists suddenly were joined by hundreds of ordinary Sahrawi citizens, protesting against the Moroccan occupation of Western Sahara and calling for freedom.

On Monday, some 300 demonstrators reportedly had taken to the streets of El Aaiun. As these were met by units of the Moroccan police, engaging them in street battles, the protest immediately widened. Yesterday, Sahrawi sources claim that over 1300 protesters filled the streets of El Aaiun, demanding a Moroccan withdrawal. Saharawi national flags were carried, some protesters set tyres on fire and some engaged in street battles with Moroccan security forces.

According to Brahim Noumria - a prominent Sahrawi human rights activist who has spent several years in Moroccan prisons - the occupying power was overwhelmed by the mass mobilisation. The rights activists, known to the police and usually let in peace by them, had noted "the genuine fear" among the Moroccan troops stationed in El Aaiun, faced by a new and surprising rebellion.

According to Mr Noumria, security forces had mostly left the well-known human rights activists in peace - in some instances trying to negotiate with them - to avoid international headlines. Scared by the popular revolt, however, the armed units had focused their reprisals on the "normal citizen and housewives" participating in the demonstrations.

According to other sources in El Aaiun, more than 20 civilians, including children, have been arrested or "disappeared". More than 30 have been wounded in clashes with Moroccan security forces and around 15 private residences have been searched and looted.

Among the many examples named, the residence of the El Aarabi family had been found "full of blood" and with "signs of a violent struggle." The entire family - including children - had been taken to an unknown site. Sahrawi activists say that the only crime done by the family had been the nursing of wounded demonstrators, which are not given treatment at the public hospital of El Aaiun.

According to sources contacted by Mr Noumria, the besieged security forces of El Aaiun are now getting reinforcements from Morocco. Some 600 additional Moroccan forces were said to be on their way from Sidi Qasem, Gouili

Moroccan armed police confronting Sahrawi demonstrators

© afrol News
mine and Assa, and there was "considerable concern" over how these may behave. The majority of these troops were thought to be of the auxiliary military forces, and hundreds more were expected in the coming days if the protests continue.

While the protests in El Aaiun are intensifying from day to day, the Sahrawi "Intifada" today also has spread to other cities and towns in Western Sahara and Morocco. There have been several reports of confrontations in the Sahrawi towns of Smara and Dakhla and of protesting Sahrawis in the Moroccan cities of Tan Tan and Rabat.

At the Souissi II University in the Moroccan capital, Rabat, hundreds of Sahrawi students today were reported to have thrown stones at Moroccan police units trying to stop the demonstrations. Anti-riot units of the police engaged in battles with the students that reportedly have left many wounded. An unknown number of arrests were also to have been produced.

According to the exiled Sahrawi government, the riots in El Aaiun and Smara are developing into a true Intifada based on the Palestinian model. The Polisario independence movement - which forms the exiled government - has so far not taken responsibility for the sudden outbreak of riots. Observers also believe that the riots have been produced autonomously out of frustration over the Moroccan occupation and the Kingdom's unwillingness to engage in the UN-led peace process.

Sahrawi exiled President Mohamed Abdelaziz meanwhile is coming under double pressure to resume the armed struggle against Morocco, which was halted by a 1991 ceasefire. The estimated 160,000 Sahrawi refugees in the Algerian desert and the population of the occupied territory have lost hope in a negotiated settlement after Morocco's King Mohammed VI withdrew his agreement to a referendum over independence - which was the pretext for the 1991 ceasefire.

So far, President Abdelaziz has limited his reaction to the riots in Western Sahara to sending an appeal to the UN Security Council, asking the UN peacekeepers in the territory to protect the Sahrawi demonstrators. The Polisario leader however recently hinted that the ceasefire could not last for ever if the Moroccan part is not interested in continuing the peace process on the basis of earlier treaties.

The movement this weekend exposed its troops and weapons in a large military parade, demonstrating its power and willingness to resume the armed struggle.

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