Portal:Western Sahara

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Western Sahara (/səˈhɑːrə, -ˈhærə/ (About this sound listen); Arabic: الصحراء الغربية‎‎ aṣ-Ṣaḥrā’ al-Gharbīyah; Berber languages: Taneẓroft Tutrimt; Spanish and French: Sahara Occidental) is a disputed territory in the Maghreb region of North Africa, partially controlled by the self-proclaimed Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic and partially Moroccan-occupied, bordered by Morocco proper to the north, Algeria to the northeast, Mauritania to the east and south, and the Atlantic Ocean to the west. Its surface area amounts to 266,000 square kilometres (103,000 sq mi). It is one of the most sparsely populated territories in the world, mainly consisting of desert flatlands. The population is estimated at just over 500,000, of which nearly 40% live in Laayoune, the largest city in Western Sahara.

Occupied by Spain until the late 20th century, Western Sahara has been on the United Nations list of non-self-governing territories since 1963 after a Moroccan demand. It is the most populous territory on that list, and by far the largest in area. In 1965, the UN General Assembly adopted its first resolution on Western Sahara, asking Spain to decolonize the territory. One year later, a new resolution was passed by the General Assembly requesting that a referendum be held by Spain on self-determination. In 1975, Spain relinquished the administrative control of the territory to a joint administration by Morocco (which had formally claimed the territory since 1957) and Mauritania. A war erupted between those countries and a Sahrawi nationalist movement, the Polisario Front, which proclaimed the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) with a government in exile in Tindouf, Algeria. Mauritania withdrew its claims in 1979, and Morocco eventually secured de facto control of most of the territory, including all the major cities and natural resources. The United Nations considers the Polisario Front to be the legitimate representative of the Sahrawi people, and maintains that the Sahrawis have a right to self-determination.

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The history of Western Sahara took a new turn in the 14th century, when Arab tribes, the Beni Hassan, first travelled to this region. The society of the Western Sahara survived the invasion. Both Berber and Arab features persist today. The region was still largely organised in tribes when the Spanish arrived in Río de Oro in the late 19th century. Resistance was organised by Morocco and led by the caid of sultan Hassan I Ma al-'Aynayn, but the territory would be cut off from Morocco by Spain and France for colonization at the Berlin Conference in 1884. Today, the region is the last area in Africa to remain on the United Nations list of Non-Self-Governing Territories.

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A town in Western Sahara
A NASA photo of the main city of Western Sahara, El Aaiún, taken from outer space.

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El-Ouali Mustapha Sayed (c. 1950-1976) was one of the founders of the Polisario Front, an organisation that fights for the independence of Western Sahara. Born in a Sahrawi bedouin family, Mustapha became interested in the politics of Western Sahara when he met other Sahrawi students at the universities in Morocco. El-Ouali became a member of the communist party of Morocco[citation needed] and received a military training in Gadaffi's Libya[citation needed]. In 1970 he participate in Sahrawi demonstrations in Tan Tan, being detained and tortured. He then organized the predecessor of the POLISARIO, the "Embryonic Movement for the Liberation of Saguia el-Hamra and Río de Oro" in 1971. In addition to being the Secretary-General of the POLISARIO, he became the first President of the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic in 1976. On June 9 of that year, he was killed in combat, fighting in Nouakchott, Mauritania's capital.


"Whoever is afraid of the referendum, is afraid of the truth" - Xanana Gusmão, first President of East Timor [1]

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