Riots erupt after Western Sahara concert
By Mawassi Lahcen for Magharebia in Casablanca – 28/02/11
Violent clashes broke out in the early morning hours of Saturday (February 26th) in the city of Dakhla. The unrest left two dead and 14 injured, according to Moroccan officials.
"Separatist elements tried to take advantage of a quarrel that occurred among some youths late last Friday night/early Saturday morning in order to disrupt the peaceful atmosphere that this area enjoys," Dakhla Mayor Hamid Shabar said.
The strife occurred after the conclusion of a music concert that was organised as part of Dakhla's Sea and Desert Festival. The two deaths came after people were run over by four-wheel drive vehicles, MAP reported. The agency said that the victims were from Essaouira and Meknes.
As a result of the violence, authorities decided to cancel a second concert that was planned to take place on Saturday evening.
While Moroccan authorities blamed supporters of the Polisario for the latest events, Sahrawi activists were just as quick to accuse Moroccans.
"Armed militias of Moroccan origins" were behind the events, the Collective of Sahrawi Human Rights (CODESA) claimed.
The Sahrawis in Dakhla were the victims of an organised attack following the conclusion of the show, according to the Laayoune-based CODESA. The group added that the attackers were armed with clubs, swords, and Molotov-cocktails.
But the Dakhla mayor had a different view, saying separatist elements took advantage of the atmosphere to commit acts of vandalism. Shabar mentioned that four vehicles were burned with gas cylinders stolen from commercial shops. He said a bank and several store fronts were also targeted by rioters.
Shabar added that security forces intervened to contain the events and to guarantee the safety of the inhabitants, citizens and those participating in the events of "The Sea and Desert" Festival.
CODESA also alleged that militias broke into Sahrawi households and attacked their residents by beating, stealing and vandalising their property. They claim this happened as Moroccan security forces stood by without intervening to stop the violence. The rights group called for a fair and honest inquiry into the events and for punishing those responsible.
Sahrawi activists took to the streets on Saturday to call for an investigation. The protest led to more violence as the demonstrators were attacked later in the evening by militias, according to CODESA.
The rights group reported several injuries among the Sahrawis, six of which were serious. It also released a list of 49 Sahrawi families whose houses, it said, had been attacked and raided by, what it has described as, militias of Moroccan origins. CODESA also mentioned assaults on commercial premises as well as burnt vehicles.
Meanwhile, the Dakhla mayor said he met with sheikhs, elders, elected officials as well as activist committee members in the area to discuss the situation. Shabar said necessary measures would be taken to maintain peace and calm.
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