Morocco king rejects independence for Western Sahara

Moroccan King, Mohammed VI, center, arrives at the Great Hall of People for a meeting with China’s Premier Li Keqiang (not in picture) in Beijing, China on May 12, 2016. (File photo by Reuters)
Updated 07 November 2017

Morocco king rejects independence for Western Sahara

RABAT: Morocco’s King Mohammed VI has ruled out any peace deal that allows for the independence of the Western Sahara as the United Nations renews efforts to resolve the decades-old dispute.
A UN peacekeeping force has been deployed in the former Spanish colony since 1991 with a mandate to organize a referendum on its independence or integration with Morocco.
Morocco agreed to the vote in a 1988 agreement with the pro-independence Polisario Front that ended 13 years of conflict but has since blocked it being held, saying it will accept only autonomy for the territory.
“No settlement of the Sahara affair is possible outside the framework of the full sovereignty of Morocco over its Sahara and the autonomy initiative, whose seriousness and credibility the international community has recognized,” the king said in a televised address on Monday.
His speech marked 42 years since hundreds of thousands of Moroccan civilians marched across the border to lay claim to the mineral-rich territory.
The “Green March” triggered war with the Algerian-backed Polisario Front which had been campaigning for independence for the territory since 1973.
The UN Security Council adopted a resolution in April that called for a new push for talks between Morocco and the Polisario.
The new UN envoy, former German president Horst Kohler, held talks with both sides last month.
The king said Morocco was committed to contributing to the “new momentum” desired by the United Nations and to cooperating with the new envoy.
But he said it would categorically reject “any overreach, any attempt to undermine the legitimate rights of Morocco.”
The king said Morocco would press ahead with its own plans for the development of the Western Sahara, regardless of the progress of the new peace push.
“We are not going to sit idly by waiting for the solution to be found,” he said.
“We will continue to stimulate the development of our southern provinces and provide their people with the conditions for a free and dignified life.”
Tens of thousands of Sahrawi refugees have lived for decades in desert camps run by the Polisario in neighboring Algeria.
Spread over 266,000 square kilometers (103,000 square miles) where the desert meets the Atlantic Ocean, the Western Sahara is the last territory on the African continent whose post-colonial status has yet to resolved.
Morocco controls all of the territory’s main towns. The Polisario controls parts of the desert interior.
The Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic declared by the Polisario is a member of the African Union and recognized by many African governments.
Morocco’s claim to the territory is supported by the Arab League.
The conflict has poisoned relations between Morocco and Algeria for decades. The land border between the North African neighbors has been closed since 1994.


‘No way we can rebuild’: Lebanese count huge losses after Beirut blast

Updated 07 August 2020

‘No way we can rebuild’: Lebanese count huge losses after Beirut blast

  • The search for those missing since Tuesday’s blast intensified overnight, as rescuers sifted rubble in a frantic race to find anyone still alive after the explosion
  • The government has promised a full investigation and put several port employees under house arrest

BEIRUT: Beirut residents began trying to rebuild their shattered lives on Friday after the biggest blast in the Lebanese capital’s history tore into the city, killing at least 154 and leaving the heavily indebted nation with another huge reconstruction bill.
The search for those missing since Tuesday’s blast intensified overnight, as rescuers sifted rubble in a frantic race to find anyone still alive after the explosion smashed a swathe of the city and sent shockwaves around the region.
Security forces fired teargas at a furious crowd late on Thursday, as anger boiled over at the government and a political elite, who have presided over a nation that was facing economic collapse even before the deadly port blast injured 5,000 people.
The small crowd, some hurling stones, marked a return to the kind of protests that had become a feature of life in Beirut, as Lebanese watched their savings evaporate and currency disintegrate, while government decision-making floundered.
“There is no way we can rebuild this house. Where is the state?” Tony Abdou, an unemployed 60-year-old, sitting in the family home in Gemmayze, a district that lies a few hundred meters from the port warehouses where highly explosive material was stored for years, a ticking time bomb next to a densely populated area.
As Abdou spoke, a domestic water boiler fell through the ceiling of his cracked home, while volunteers from the neighborhood turned out on the street to sweep up debris.
“Do we actually have a government here?” said taxi driver Nassim Abiaad, 66, whose cab was crushed by falling building wreckage just as he was about to get into the vehicle.
“There is no way to make money anymore,” he said.
The government has promised a full investigation and put several port employees under house arrest. State news agency NNA said 16 people were taken into custody. But for many Lebanese, the explosion was symptomatic of the years of neglect by the authorities while state corruption thrived.
Shockwaves
Officials have said the blast, whose seismic impact was recorded hundreds of miles (kilometers) away, might have caused losses amounting to $15 billion — a bill the country cannot pay when it has already defaulted on its mountain of national debt, exceeding 150% of economic output, and talks about a lifeline from the International Monetary Fund have stalled.
Hospitals, many heavily damaged as shockwaves ripped out windows and pulled down ceilings, have been overwhelmed by the number of casualties. Many were struggling to find enough foreign exchange to buy supplies before the explosion.
In the port area, rescue teams set up arc lights to work through the night in a dash to find those still missing, as families waited tensely, slowly losing hope of ever seeing loved ones again. Some victims were hurled into the sea because of the explosive force.
The weeping mother of one of the missing called a prime time TV program on Thursday night to plead with the authorities to find her son, Joe. He was found — dead — hours later.
Lebanese Red Cross Secretary General George Kettaneh told local radio VDL that three more bodies had been found in the search, while the health minister said on Friday the death toll had climbed to 154. Dozens are still unaccounted for.
Charbel Abreeni, who trained port employees, showed Reuters pictures on his phone of killed colleagues. He was sitting in a church where the head from the statue of the Virgin Mary had been blown off.
“I know 30 port employees who died, two of them are my close friends and a third is missing,” said the 62-year-old, whose home was wrecked in the blast. His shin was bandaged.
“I have nowhere to go except my wife’s family,” he said. “How can you survive here, the economy is zero?“
Offers of immediate medical and food aid have poured in from Arab states, Western nations and beyond. But none, so far, address the bigger challenges facing a bankrupt nation.
French President Emmanuel Macron came to the city on Thursday with a cargo from France. He promised to explain some “home truths” to the government, telling them they needed to root out corruption and deliver economic reforms.
He was greeted on the street by many Lebanese who asked for help in ensuring “regime” change, so a new set of politicians could rebuild Beirut and set the nation on a new course.
Beirut still bore scars from heavy shelling in the 1975-1990 civil war before the blast. After the explosion, chunks of the city once again look like a war zone.