Monday, November 07, 2005

Police beatings in a "repressive"crackdown

Sunday November 6, 12:47 AMAgence France-Presse (AFP)Police brutality claims on eve of Western Sahara anniversaryThis Sunday marks 30 years since Morocco's "Green March" into WesternSahara, and locals in the former Spanish colony's main city ofLaayoune are reporting police beatings in a "repressive" crackdownahead of the anniversary.Last week 24-year-old Hamdi Lembarki was killed in disputedcircumstances during days of clashes between separatist demonstratorsand Moroccan police in the town's main street, Smara.According to the police version of events, his head injuries werecaused by stones thrown by the demonstrators. But according to localsand one non-governmental organisation, he suffered a police beating.Today, Sidi Ahmed El Majid has a dozen visitors sitting on his floor.Ahmed, 45, says his forearm wounds and shoulder bruises stem from apolice beating."The police beat me up on October 30 and my friends treated me withgoat fat," he says. "Here there is only traditional medicine -- thehospital was under military police control".His visitors range in their political affiliations from supportingindependence or self-rule for Western Sahara, to simply wanting "theright to _expression".Among them, Salem Babouit, aged 60, is unequivocal: "I am firmly forindependence, I've shouted it from the rooftops and I call on theinternational community to hold a referendum on self-rule."His friend Lahbib Boussoufa, 67, is more troubled by the territory'ssocial problems."Neglect, unemployment and bad living conditions are behind the angerand rebellion of the people and the youth of Western Sahara.""If there is a democracy here, we want our share," Boussoufa says, ashe pours some traditionally strong and sweet local tea.On his way back from Eid-al-Fitr prayers on Friday in the Al Fathdistrict, local businessman Mbarek El Fakir, 53, also complains ofpolice violence in the past week."Beating people and bursting into their homes, where there are womenand children, is not good," he tells AFP adding that he hopes "thewhole nation, Western Sahara and the other regions, remains united andon 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 withWestern Sahara in a show of support for Morocco's annexation of theterritory.Morocco's claim to the land is contested by the Polisario Front, anAlgerian-backed independence movement.But Ahmed Kher, a former Polisario member won over to the Moroccanview in 1995, wonders "whether Morocco still wants Western Sahara".In any case the government's relations with locals would be better "ifthe police in Laayoune were Western Saharans," Kher says."I strongly believe in Morocco's claim to Western Sahara and I thinkindependence unlikely, but Morocco should make a gesture towards thepeople here, in Laayoune, Smara and Dakhla, and not towards thePolisario Front," he says warning against secret negotiations with theseparatists.Kher also believes "the policy of marginalisation is leading people,especially the younger generation, to think that the Polisario Frontwill automatically meet hopes which have not been answered by Morocco."There are lobbies in Morocco who are benefiting from the policecrackdown," he says, just as it is in the interests of generals inAlgeria 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), Abdelhamid Amine, who thinks it is up to King Mohammed VI,Hassan's son, to intervene and "find a solution to the tense situationin Western Sahara"._______________________________________________Source: by:_______________________________________________Norwegian Support Committee for Western*** Referendum now! ***

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