Moroccan police crack down on protest in Western Sahara ahead of EU trade deal vote
Many Sahrawis were forced out of the Western Sahara when Morocco annexed the contested territory. They have been living in refugee camps in Algeria since the 1970s (File Archive/AFP)
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Moroccan police violently cracked down on a peaceful protest in the Western Sahara, according to Agence France-Presse reports Monday.
Approximately 50 demonstrators gathered in the city of Laayoune Saturday evening in protest against a proposed EU trade agreement with Rabat that would allow the Moroccan government to use fish stocks from the contested territory's water sources.The protestors, most of whom were women, carried signs saying "stop taking our resources," and chanting slogans.
According to Hamoud Iguilid from the Moroccan Association of Human Rights, police, who already outnumbered the group, began beating the protesters with batons, injuring many of them. Many of the injured were women and children, according to the report, but no arrests were made at the scene.
The European Parliament is scheduled to vote Tuesday on a new four-year fishing agreement with Morocco that would allow more than 120 EU fishing vessels to use the water of Morocco and Western Sahara. In December 2011, the parliament refused to extend a previous fishing agreement with Morocco in December 2011 on the grounds that the accord "did not sufficiently take into account the interests of the people of the Western Sahara," but it is not quite clear if the parliament still holds the same sympathies two years later.
"The Sahrawi community is boiling over with frustration vis-à-vis the EU. According to international law and a legal opinion by the UN, the people of the territory must consent to deals in the territory of Western Sahara... The EU accord would be a slap in the face for human rights and peace in Western Sahara," said Erik Hagen, who heads Western Sahara Resource Watch, an international lobby group.
If the EU does ratify the deal Tuesday, Morocco will receive more than 40 million euros annually in financial aid.
Since it annexed the contested territory in 1975, Morocco has continuously exploited the Western Sahara's natural resources, including its coveted phosphate reserves. Rabat's use of the territory's natural resources has served as a major point of contention with the Polisario Front, the UN-recognized body of the people of the Western Sahara.