See also:
» 28.02.2011 - Even Sahrawis plan pro-democracy protests
» 12.02.2011 - Saharawis at unease over Algeria, Morocco unrest
» 11.10.2010 - Sahrawis awake to government opposition
» 11.02.2010 - Morocco-Polisario revive talks
» 03.02.2010 - New talks on Western Sahara in US
» 18.12.2009 - Sahara activist allowed back home
» 11.12.2009 - UN chief intevening in Saharawi activist cause
» 17.11.2009 - Unblock foreign visits to Sahrawi activists, HRW

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Western Sahara
Politics | Human rights

Peaceful Western Sahara anti-government protests

Pro-democracy protests in the Sahrawi refugee camps were peaceful

© Futuro Saharaui/afrol News
afrol News, 5 March
- The anti-government protests wave today reached the Sahrawi refugee camps, where "revolutionary youths" urged the POLISARIO government to embark on democracy and social reforms.

A call for mass protests today in the refugee camps, housing an estimated 150,000 Sahrawis escaping Moroccan occupation of Western Sahara, was made last week. The youthful group wanted the 35-year-old exiled government of the Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic to open up for a new generation.

According to Said Zarwal - one of the organisers of the protests and also editor of the dissident media 'Futuro Saharaui - told afrol News that, "despite all kind of pressure, finally we were able to organise a peaceful manifestation against the POLISARIO regime today."

Mr Zarwal was somewhat disappointed that only 200 persons had participated, but said that this had come after "negative propaganda against the organisers of the protests by the Sahrawi government."

Government officials in the Sahrawi refugee camps had told persons they should not participate in this manifestation, according to Mr Zarwal. "Therefore, no many people showed up," he explained.

There were however made no attempts to prohibit the well-announced demonstration in advance. The protesters also were left to air their message of political reforms in peace, with no interference by security troops.

However, there came to no dialogue between the protesters and Sahrawi authorities, as the "Revolutionary Youth" had hoped for.

The demands in this first-ever anti-government protest in the Sahrawi refugee camps were neither radical nor far-reaching. The protesting youth did not, as in other North African countries, call for President Mohamed Abdelaziz to step down.

Rather, demands were for the Sahrawi army to improve its standing and salaries; giving larger attention to the needs of the victims of the war against Morocco and the families of the martyrs; and to give greater support to the many Sahrawis still struggling for free

Pro-democracy protesters in the Sahrawi refugee camps wore their national flags and swore to national unity

© Futuro Saharaui/afrol News
dom in the occupied territories.

But the "Revolutionary Youth" also wanted reforms in the refugee camps, governed by the POLISARIO government. Especially, they demanded, "the judiciary and the state administration" urgently needed to be reformed.

The protesters in particular reacted against the alleged widespread nepotism, tribalism and corruption in government institutions. Many government officials were busier filling their own pockets than during their duty serving citizens in the impoverished refugee camps, the youth claim.

Another major demand was for corrupt officials to be brought to trial and the funds stolen from the Sahrawi people to be restored.

It was also time that a new generation of Sahrawis were allowed to "to participate in political life," the youths demanded.

The most daring demand was for changes to the electoral code in Western Sahara that would give voters a larger possibility to influence the election of parliamentary members and the President.

The "Revolutionary Youth" at all occasions emphasised the continued Sahrawi unity in the fight against the Moroccan "enemy", urging Moroccan media not to exploit the protests for propaganda uses. For that reason, all protesters were urged to bring Sahrawi flags - which they did.

Mr Zarwal was not able to tell afrol News whether new protests would be prepared in the Sahrawi refugee camps or what would be the next steps by the "Revolutionary Youth" in their fight for political reforms in the Sahrawi Republic.

Western Sahara, a former Spanish colony, has been occupied by Morocco since 1976, with a bloody war between the two parties going on until a 1991 ceasefire. The rebel POLISARIO since 1976 has formed the government of the Sahrawi Republic, which is a full-fledged African Union member although based in exile.

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