‘Saharan Gandhi’ on hunger strike at Spanish airport

Lanzarote (Spain), Nov 16 (DPA) The prominent Western Saharan human rights activist Aminatou Haidar has launched a hunger strike at a Spanish airport, accusing Morocco and Spain of preventing her from entering Western Sahara, local Saharan representatives said Monday.

Dubbed the “Saharan Gandhi,” Haidar defends the self-determination of the territory annexed by Morocco after 1975. A winner of several human rights awards, she has spent years in Moroccan jails.

On Friday, Haidar flew from Spain’s Canary Islands to the Western Saharan capital Laayoun, where she lives.

Morocco barred her entry, because she announced her nationality as Saharan instead of Moroccan, Spanish media reported. The Moroccan authorities confiscated her passport and put her on a plane heading for the Canary Island of Lanzarote.

Haidar was forced to enter Spain despite not having a passport, but was not allowed to leave again and to return to Laayoun on the grounds that she had no passport, police sources were quoted as saying.

On Sunday, Haidar launched a hunger strike, accusing Spain of “kidnapping” her in support of Morocco.

Haidar spent the night outside the airport after being expelled from the airport building by police. She re-entered the airport Monday, the Saharan sources said.

The Spanish Foreign Ministry said Haidar had entered Spain with a Spanish residence permit but could not leave without a passport.

Morocco’s official news agency MAP Monday slammed Haidar as a “banal traiter” manipulated by Algeria, which has backed the Saharan independence movement Polisario. MAP said Haidar had denied her Moroccan nationality and disobeyed airport rules.

Morocco annexed Western Sahara after the colonial power Spain withdrew from the territory in 1975, prompting Polisario to launch a war which lasted until the UN brokered a ceasefire in 1991.

Haidar and other activitists accuse Morocco of repression and human rights abuses in the desert territory.

International support for Saharan independence has weakened as Morocco has refused to organise the UN-proposed referendum on independence. Morocco is now offering Western Sahara autonomy instead of independence.