As many as one million people have taken to the streets of the Moroccan capital, Rabat, to protest recent comments by the United Nations (UN)’s secretary-general regarding Morocco’s contested Western Sahara territory.
On Sunday, protesters gathered in Rabat to express their anger at UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s recent use of the word “occupation” regarding Morocco’s presence in the territory, which is considered by Moroccans to include their country’s “southern provinces.”
The demonstrators, who held banners and chanted slogans such as “the Sahara is ours,” were led by political parties, unions, and non-governmental groups.
This comes just days after Ban visited Morocco in a move aimed at restarting talks between the government in Rabat and the Algeria-backed Polisario Front over the disputed Western Sahara region.
The Moroccan government and the Polisario Front, which claims the disputed territory belongs to the ethnic Sahrawis, have failed to reach an agreement despite a UN-brokered ceasefire in 1991.
For decades, the UN has been seeking to hold a referendum on independence for the territory, which was annexed by Morocco when Spain withdrew from the country back in 1975.
In response to the protests in Morocco, UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said that during his trip to the country, Ban had called for “genuine negotiations in good faith and without preconditions at each stop on his recent trip.”
“While the secretary-general acknowledges that there are differences of opinion on the Western Sahara issue, he continues to believe that, 40 years after [the withdrawal of Spain], it is important to resolve this long-standing dispute and open the way to the return of the Sahrawi refugees to their homes,” Dujarric added.
This is while Rabat has proposed increased autonomy for the territory under its sovereignty.
Following the UN chief’s remarks earlier this month, in a statement released by the official MAP news agency, Rabat criticized the “unjustified gestures of deference” by Ban. The statement further warned that the UN’s “no longer neutral” stance could “jeopardize the process.”
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