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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 19 September 2018

Moroccans celebrate 40 years since Green March in Western Sahara

King Mohammed says development plans for region will continue with slew of infrastructure projects.
Moroccans wave national flags during celebrations in Laayoune, the main city in Western Sahara, of the 40th anniversary of the Green March that led to the reclaiming of the region from Spanish colonial rule. Fadel Senna / AFP /November 6, 2015
Moroccans wave national flags during celebrations in Laayoune, the main city in Western Sahara, of the 40th anniversary of the Green March that led to the reclaiming of the region from Spanish colonial rule. Fadel Senna / AFP /November 6, 2015

WESTERN SAHARA // Morocco’s King Mohammed VI has said Western Sahara was at “the dawn of a new era” as Moroccans celebrated 40 years since reclaiming the territory from Spanish colonial rule.

Speaking in the region’s capital, Laayoune, King Mohammed was joined by tens of thousands of Moroccans to celebrate the Green March, when 350,000 Moroccans escorted by 20,000 Moroccan troops, crossed into Western Sahara on November 6, 1975.

King Mohammed described the event as a “watershed moment in the process to complete the kingdom’s territorial integrity”.

“Following the epic achievement of liberating our land and shoring up peace and security, our country has sought to enable the Saharan populations to become full-fledged citizens and enjoy a dignified life,” he said in a speech on Friday broadcast to the nation.

The king said that Western Sahara would continue to benefit from “advanced regionalisation” and the government’s “development model”.

He said revenues from the region’s natural resources would be invested locally and he listed several infrastructure projects that would be pushed ahead, including a desalination plant, transport links, energy projects and industrial parks.

“I am keen to make sure we provide our fellow citizens in the southern provinces with all the necessary means to enable them to manage their own affairs and show they are capable of developing their region,” King Mohammed said.

From Rabat to Marrakech and Casablanca, Moroccans flocked from the all corners of the country to take part in Friday’s celebrations.

“For the past 40 years, all Moroccans come to Laayoune on this day to celebrate this great occasion,” said Latifa Solouh, in her 30s, who has lived in the city most of her life. “We all gather here today because we are all so happy, it is such a joyous occasion.”

Dressed in green and red, the colours of the national flag, the revellers drove up and down the narrow streets of Laayoune chanting in support of their country and king. “This is a big day for us,” said Yassine Mohammed, a 22-year-old construction worker from Marrakech.

“Our happiness isn’t just for this day, it’s for every day from that day 40 years ago and onwards. It’s the first time I attend the celebrations here and it’s really overwhelming.”

Many decorated cars, buses and motorcycles drove to the airport to welcome the king upon his arrival.

The Green March was named after the holy colour of Islam, which adorned many of the buildings in Laayoune’s old town.

Eight days after the march, Spain conceded that the territory was lost and two thirds of the area was handed to Morocco and the remaining third in the south was given to Mauritania.

However, the division of the territory sparked a conflict with the Algerian-backed Polisario Front which claims the region should be independent. A United Nations mission has ensured a ceasefire remained in place since 1991. A referendum on Western Sahara’s future has never taken place.

On Friday, King Mohammed said Morocco continued to offer greater autonomy to Western Sahara.

“Those who are waiting for any other concession on Morocco’s part are deceiving themselves. Indeed, Morocco has given all there was to give,” the king said.

Last week, UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon called for negotiations in the coming months to finally settle the Western Sahara dispute.

Mohammed Ait Ouali, Morocco’s ambassador to the UAE, said the celebrations of the anniversary of the Green March were a “recognition of what has been achieved since then in the southern provinces in terms of sustainable development in all sectors”.

cmalek@thenational.ae

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