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Morocco - Moroccan town locals report beatings on eve of 30th 'Green March' anniversary

Sunday marked 30 years since Morocco's "Green March" into Western Sahara, and locals in the former Spanish colony's main city of Laayoune are reporting police beatings in a "repressive" crackdown ahead of the anniversary. Last week 24-year-old Hamdi Lembarki was killed in disputed circumstances during days of clashes between separatist demonstrators and Moroccan police in the town's main street, Smara.

According to the police version of events, his head injuries were caused by stones thrown by the demonstrators. But according to locals and one non-governmental organization, he suffered a police beating.

On Saturday, Sidi Ahmad al-Majid had a dozen visitors sitting on his floor.

Ahmad, 45, said his forearm wounds and shoulder bruises stem from a police beating.

"The police beat me up on October 30 and my friends treated me with goat fat," he said. "Here there is only traditional medicine - the hospital was under military police control."

Ahmad's visitors are ranged in their political affiliations from supporting independence or self-rule for Western Sahara, to simply wanting "the right to expression."

Among them, Salem Babouit, aged 60, is unequivocal: "I am firmly for independence, I've shouted it from the rooftops and I call on the international community to hold a referendum on self-rule."

His friend Lahbib Boussoufa, 67, is more troubled by the territory's social problems.

"Neglect, unemployment and bad living conditions are behind the anger and rebellion of the people and the youth of Western Sahara."

"If there is a democracy here, we want our share," Boussoufa says, as he pours some traditionally strong and sweet local tea.

On his way back from Eid al-Fitr prayers on Friday in the Al-Fath district, local businessman Mubarak al-Fakir, 53, also complained of police violence in the past week.

"Beating people and bursting into their homes, where there are women and children, is not good," he said adding that he hopes "the whole nation, Western Sahara and the other regions, remains united and on an equal footing."

Sunday marks the 30th anniversary of late Moroccan King Hassan II's "Green March," when some 350,000 Moroccans marched to the border with Western Sahara in a show of support for Morocco's annexation of the territory.

Morocco's claim to the land is contested by the Polisario Front, an Algerian-backed independence movement.

But Ahmad Kher, a former Polisario member won over to the Moroccan view in 1995, wonders "whether Morocco still wants Western Sahara."

In any case the government's relations with locals would be better "if the police in Laayoune were Western Saharans," Kher says.

"I strongly believe in Morocco's claim to Western Sahara and I think independence unlikely, but Morocco should make a gesture towards the people here, in Laayoune, Smara and Dakhla, and not towards the Polisario Front," he says warning against secret negotiations with the separatists.

Kher also believes "the policy of marginalization is leading people, especially the younger generation, to think that the Polisario Front will automatically meet hopes which have not been answered by Morocco.

"There are lobbies in Morocco who are benefiting from the police crackdown," he says, just as it is in the interests of generals in Algeria to block a solution to the Western Saharan conflict.

"Some blind and racist police operations suit the Polisario Front," agrees the president of the Moroccan Association of Human Rights (AMDH), Abdel-Hamid Amine, who thinks it is up to King Mohammad VI, Hassan's son, to intervene and "find a solution to the tense situation in Western Sahara."

Casablanca,11 07 2005
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The Daily Star
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