40-day mourning period for Abdelaziz

2016-06-01 13:17
(File, AP)

(File, AP)

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Algiers - Mohamed Abdelaziz, the head and co-founder of the Polisario Front independence movement in the Western Sahara, has died after a long illness. He was in his late 60s.

The Polisario Front ordered a 40-day mourning period, after which it said a new secretary-general will be chosen.

Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika also declared a week of mourning for the Polisario leader, whose group is based in Tindoufn in southern Algeria.

The death of Abdelaziz, leader of the Polisario Front for four decades, comes at a time of growing tensions over the fate of the Western Sahara. The Polisario Front has fought for four decades for independence for the vast, mineral-rich territory on Africa's Atlantic coast, which was annexed by Morocco after Spain withdrew in 1975.

Morocco now considers the territory its "southern provinces" and has pumped funds into the area's development over the years. Morocco is also becoming increasingly assertive on the topic with the United Nations, which has worked for years to help settle the issue of Western Sahara's status.

Abdelaziz was born in 1948 in Smara, which is now in Moroccan-controlled Western Sahara, and led the Polisario Front, which he helped found, since 1976, according to Algeria's state-run APS news agency.

The issue of Western Sahara has prompted new friction between two North African neighbours, Morocco and Algeria. Algeria supports the Polisario Front and like numerous other African countries recognises the Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic it defends.

The Moroccan government has proposed wide-ranging autonomy for the region, but the Polisario Front insists on self-determination through a referendum for the local population - as called for in UN resolutions.

Morocco expelled most UN civilian staff in April after UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon used the word "occupation" to refer to the situation following a March visit to a camp for Western Sahara refugees in southern Algeria during which he met Abdelaziz.

Read more on:    polisario front  |  mohamed abdelaziz  |  abdelaziz bouteflika  |  algeria  |  north africa

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