"After the King gave his speech, we expected Moroccan forces to act up"
The clashes began in refugee camps situated some 20 km east of Laayoun, then spread to the city centre. The camp, home 12,000 people, had been set up by Sahrawis to protest the discrimination they say they are victims of in comparison to Arabic Muslim citizens. It was both a social and economic symbol, to denounce the marginalisation, poverty and unemployment faced by many Sahrawis in Morocco. It also aimed at reminding Moroccan authorities of our people’s Bedouin roots. Needless to say, the camp was under tight surveillance from police.
After the King [Mohamed VI] gave his speech on Saturday [to commemorate the 35 years of the "green march" led by Hassan II against the Spaniards in Western Sahara], we expected Moroccan forces to act up. This isn’t the first time this kind of incident happens in Laayoun [violent riots broke out in 1999 and 2005].
On Sunday evening at around 8pm, police forces circled the camp, barring anyone from entering or exiting it. People were angry because they could no longer bring food to their relatives inside, and several skirmishes broke out.
The following day, a police helicopter flew over the camp, warning residents they had six hours to leave the premises. They raided the camp several hours later, using tear gas and water cannons. They also set fire to several tents.
The citizens of Laayoun flew into a rage when they heard about the raid. Hundreds of protesters marched out to the streets carrying Polisario flags that they hung in front of every government building, instead of the Moroccan flag. The protests spread to every neighbourhood in the city, and went on until police intervened. The repression was very violent. The homes of many Sahrawis were raided and vandalised.”