Sydney, Australia

27 February 2001

Up to 60 supporters of the Saharawi people's independence struggle marched to the Moroccan Consulate in North Sydney to protest the Moroccan occupation of Western Sahara. The crowd, carrying colourful Western Sahara flags, large banners and placards reading Bloody Morocco Out and Free Western Sahara, stopped lunch-time traffic as they made their way through the city, chanting loudly.

Outside the Moroccan Consulate Mr Justice John Dowd was the first of a number of high-profile speakers to address the crowd. " Resolving the conflict in Western Sahara is the biggest challenge the UN is facing at the moment", he said. He called on the Australian government to be the next country to recognise the Saharawi state which is celebrating its 25th anniversary today. "SADR deserves recognition," he continued, explaining how impressed he was seeing the government of the state in exile when he visited the Saharawi refugee camps a few months ago.

Democrat Senator Lyn Allison flew in from Federal Parliament in Canberra to attend the rally. Many Australians know nothing about Western Sahara she said, but "people I met in the Saharawi refugee camps know about Australia. In particular they knew that Australia helped East Timor achieve independence and they hoped it would do the same for Western Sahara." She pledged the ongoing support of the Friends in Parliament to the Saharawi people's struggle.

Janelle Saffin, Labor MLC in the New South Wales State Parliament said that freedom for Western Sahara was long overdue but action by the international community can make a difference. Responding to a message read out from one of the Councils of Saharawi Women in the Refugee Camps she paid them particular tribute and wanted them to know that they were not forgotten.

Kamal Fadel, Polisario Front Representative to Australia, emphasised that no solution to the conflict would be acceptable unless it respects the right of the Saharawi people to exercise self-determination through a free and fair referendum. Jamie Parker, President of the Australia Western Sahara Association (AWSA), highlighted the human rights abuses suffered by Saharawi people living under Moroccan occupation. "They cannot express themselves in public as we are doing today," he said "but we can let the world know what is happening to them."

Stephanie Brennan, Vice-President of AWSA and Convenor of the Western Sahara Alliance, a broad-based coalition of politicians, trades unionists, human rights activists, students and humanitarian organisations, thanked everyone for coming to the first rally to be held in Australia for Western Sahara. "This is a great start to a series of actions which will continue to be organised throughout the year", she said, urging those present to continue their support.

A letter to King Mohamed VI of Morocco was handed to the Moroccan Consulate by Janelle Saffin MLC and Jamie Parker (AWSA) accompanied by angry chants from the crowd of Morocco Out Now! The rally also heard from John Robertson, Assistant Secretary of Labor Council of NSW which represents 900,000 trade unionists; the National Union of Students; and letters of support were read out from Amnesty International and the UK Campaign. The Greens, APHEDA and the LHMU, MEU/ASU, AMWU, and CFMEU unions as well as many students from Sydney campuses, Green Left Weekly and other progressive groups were also in attendance.

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