• Spain's news in English

Western Sahara protest draws thousands

AFP · 17 Nov 2014, 09:11

Published: 17 Nov 2014 09:11 GMT+01:00

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

About 3,000 protesters marched from Atocha railway station to the central Plaza de la Provincia behind a banner declaring "Sahara Free now!", a photographer with news agency AFP said.

Banners from many parts of Spain could be seen at the demonstration which also included live music and street performers dressed in the red, green, black and white of the traditional Saharawi flag.

"We believe the Saharawi people have to right to self-determination," said Jose Taboada, president of the Coordination of Spanish Associations of Solidarity with Western Sahara, which organised the protest and wants the territory to vote on independence.

"This is a scream to demand that the Spanish government intervene to help the Saharawis to be able to vote to decide what they would like to be," he told AFP.

Western Sahara, larger than Britain but with a population under one million people, has lucrative phosphate reserves, rich fishing grounds and, potentially, oil.

Morocco took control of most of the territory in November 1975 when colonial power Spain withdrew, prompting a guerrilla war for independence that lasted until 1991 when the United Nations brokered a ceasefire and sent in a peacekeeping mission.

The agreement also directed a referendum in a few months' time, under which Saharawis would vote either for independence or to integrate with Morocco, but that vote has yet to take place.

Local Saharawi people have long campaigned for the right to self-determination but most Moroccans now view the territory as a part of their kingdom.

Morocco wants talks about self-rule for the territory under Moroccan sovereignty, but the territory's Algerian-backed Polisario Front independence movement has demanded a referendum that would include the option of full independence.

Several thousand Saharawis live in refugee camps across the border in western Algeria's barren Tindouf province or in Moroccan controlled territory where they complain of repression.

The protest was staged to coincide with a European conference for support for the Saharawi people held in Madrid.

The conference wrapped up with a resolution by the participants accusing Morocco of preventing the United Nations' envoy for Western Sahara, Christopher Ross, of carrying out his mission.

"The conference renews its support for Christopher Ross and recognizes his determination to carry out his mission," the resolution added.

Morocco in 2012 said it had lost confidence in Ross, claiming he made "biased and unbalanced" decisions concerning the disputed region.

Story continues below…

"The Polisario Front and the Saharawi government until now are convinced by the Saharawi public opinion of the need to continue on a peaceful and diplomatic path," the head of the Polisario, Mohamed Abdelaziz, told AFP on the sidelines of the conference in Madrid.

"The situation in the region is dangerous, with a real increase in the causes of instability as the situation in Libya, Mali and the Sahel region in general show," he added.

"The Saharawi republic and the Polisario Front are necessary forces to protect stability and moderation, to protect the region against a slide towards extremism," he added.

"The one who has chosen war and escalation and extremism is, unfortunately, Morocco."

Europe and the United States have expressed concern that the conflict, because it has soured relations between Morocco and Algeria, is preventing the two neighbours from working together to contain Islamist violence in the region.

For more news from Spain, join us on Facebook and Twitter.

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
Recipe: How to make fabada - traditional Asturian bean stew
Photo: Flavio Lorenzo Sánchez/Flickr

The hearty Asturian dish is a perfect lunch on a cold day... and don't forget the crusty bread and cider!

Brit 'paedo' held on Costa del Sol after Most Wanted appeal

One of Britain's most wanted fugitives was arrested on the Costa Del Sol following a tip-off from an expat just hours after his face appeared on a public appeal.

Spain's parliament approves deficit reduction measures
Photo: Images Money/Flickr

Spanish lawmakers approved on Thursday measures to reduce the public deficit and keep it under the target agreed with the European Union.

'Cubism and War' show opens at Barcelona Picasso Museum
Pablo Picasso Harlequin and Woman with a Necklace. Photo: MP

Barcelona's Picasso Museum unveiled an exhibition on "Cubism and War" on Thursday depicting how one of the most influential artistic styles of the 20th century survived the First World War.

Why this bionic limb pioneer doesn't believe in disability
Hugh Herr has been award Spain's top science prize. Photo: FPA

The Local speaks to Hugh Herr on winning Spain's top science prize and how being an amputee doesn't make him disabled.

Dine in the buff at Spain's first nudist restaurant
A buffet of organic food will be served on "human tables". Photo: Innato / Facebook

Spain's first naked dining experience is to arrive on the island of Tenerife following the success of a similar venture in London.

Spain's top court overturns bullfighting ban in Catalonia
Photo: AFP

Spain's Constitutional Court on Thursday cancelled a bullfighting ban in Catalonia in what is likely to exacerbate tensions between Madrid and the separatist region, and between animal activists and fans of the tradition.

Out of the dark: Five years on from Eta ceasefire
Eta members made a ceasefire declaration in January, 2011. Photo: Gara / AFP

Five years after armed separatist group Eta declared a permanent ceasefire, Basque journalist Alberto Letona is still wondering when the dialogue will begin.

Hunt for ten most wanted Brit fugitives hiding out in Spain
Call Crimestoppers if you recognize these faces.

These fugitives from British justice are thought to be hiding out in Spain. Do you recognize anyone?

Eta 'not dead' but Spain focus moves onto jihadism
Archive photo of a pro-mural in the Basque Country. Photo: AFP

Five years after Eta quit violence, the Basque separatist group has yet to dissolve but it poses little threat and authorities have shifted their focus to fight jihadists, says Spain's chief anti-terrorism prosecutor.

Sponsored Article
How to vote absentee from abroad in the US elections
Celebrate expat life at Madrid’s THRIVE convention
Sponsored Article
Last chance to vote absentee in the US elections
Disney announces plans for Don Quixote action movie
Activist tells 8-yr-old matador wannabe with cancer 'just die'
Sponsored Article
How to vote absentee from abroad in the US elections
King to make last minute push to avoid third vote in Spain
Amazing photos of Catalonia's 'human tower' contest
What's on in Spain: October 2016
'No way, Jose! You'll never get your hands on our Rock'
Recipe: How to make a classic Spanish tortilla de patatas
Chorizo in paella? Go back to cooking school Jamie Oliver
Spain in eye of a perfect storm after 10 months without govt
Thousands share clips of life for 'Spain in a Day' film
Ten incredible Spain locations for Game of Thrones season 7
Analysis & Opinion
Why moving to Spain could be the best decision of your life
Seven reasons why autumn is the very best season in Spain
Spanish study finds four types of personality. Which are you?
New search underway for civil war grave of poet Lorca
Bison found decapitated on Valencia nature reserve
Forgotten Voices: What Brits in Spain think about Brexit
One dead and 14 injured in blast at Spanish resort
Game of Thrones want extras 'with muscles' to film in Spain
Thousands march in Madrid to push for bullfighting ban
Spanish team invents hands-free 'penis bidet'
In pics: Devastation caused by Costa Blanca wildfires
jobs available