Morocco rejects referendum on Sahara independence
Morocco on Wednesday again rejected a referendum on the independence of Western Sahara, shortly before its negotiations with the region's separatist movement Polisario were due to restart in New York, DPA reported.
The concept of Western Saharan self-determination did not imply such a referendum, but could be exercised in other ways, Moroccan Foreign Minister Taieb Fassi-Fihri said after meeting his Spanish counterpart Trinidad Jimenez in Madrid.
A 1991 plan proposed by the United Nations foresees a referendum on the independence of the desert territory, which was annexed by Morocco after the colonial power Spain withdrew from there in 1975.
Rabat has consistently refused to stage the referendum, and is now offering Western Sahara autonomy instead - an option that Polisario rejects.
Jimenez urged Morocco and Polisario to finally resolve their 35-year conflict in a way that respected the interests of both sides and did not violate UN resolutions.
The two ministers met just as Morocco was facing a large-scale protest movement demanding social improvements near the Western Saharan capital Laayoune.
A group of demonstrators, whose number Spanish press reports put at 20,000, have set up a tent camp to demand jobs, better housing and an end to what they see as Morocco's way of using Saharan natural resources to its own benefit.
Rabat was offering the demonstrators land, credit for building housing, and unemployment benefits in an attempt to dismantle the camp, the Spanish daily El Pais reported Wednesday.
The protest movement does not have direct links with Polisario, which is due to relaunch its UN-sponsored talks with Morocco early next week.
Fassi-Fihri accused Spanish media of always siding with Polisario instead of reporting objectively on the conflict.
Rabat has prevented journalists from accessing the tent camp, according to Spanish press reports.
Morocco recently also withdrew accreditation from correspondents of the Arab television channel al-Jazeera, alleging biased reporting on issues including the Western Sahara conflict.