40 hurt in West Sahara pro-independence demo, reports say

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At least 40 people including eight policemen were injured when a pro-independence demonstration on the disputed Western Sahara turned violent, police and Amnesty International said on Saturday.

Around 100 people took part in Friday’s protest, according to an AFP correspondent in the Western Sahara city of Laayoune a day after a U.N. Security Council resolution renewed the mandate of the Western Sahara peacekeeping force known as MINURSO.

Police in Laayoune said the protest was unauthorized and demonstrators were dispersed after “the usual warnings” were issued because they were blocking a public road.

Sirine Rached, an Amnesty International delegate who was present, told AFP police used “excessive force” to disperse the protesters who had been marching peacefully in the center of Laayoune.

Police said in a statement that eight members of the security forces were hurt and taken to a military hospital for treatment, but made no mention of other casualties.

Amnesty International said at least 30 protesters were also injured.

Morocco occupied the Western Sahara, a former Spanish colony, in 1975 in a move never recognized by the international community.

Polisario Front rebels have taken up arms to fight for an independent state in the Western Sahara.

The United Nations negotiated a ceasefire in 1991, but its efforts to broker a permanent peace deal remain deadlocked.

Rabat proposes broad autonomy under Moroccan sovereignty for the disputed phosphate-rich region, but the Polisario rejects this, insisting on the Sahrawis’ right to a U.N.-monitored referendum on independence.

On Thursday, the U.N. Security Council passed Resolution 2099 extending the peacekeeping mission for another year and also urged Morocco and the Polisario Front to pursue efforts to promote human rights in Western Sahara.

The vote came after a bid by the United States to task the U.N. mission with rights monitoring was dropped.