Nearly one million people in Morocco marched in capital Rabat on Sunday to protest against the United Nations secretary-general’s statement on disputable Western Sahara territory.
Morocco considers mineral-rich Western Sahara as its ‘’southern provinces’’ and took offence when UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon used the word ‘’occupation’’ after a visit to refugee camps for the region's native Sahrawis this month in southern Algeria.
Protesters took to the streets on Sunday in Rabat over national demonstration calls by political parties and unions. Moroccan authorities announced that nearly 3 million people attended the march.
Protesters chanted ‘’The Sahara is ours,’’ as they carried Moroccan flags and a banner showing King Mohammed VI.
UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said the UN is aware of the protests in Morocco.
"While the Secretary-General acknowledges that there are differences of opinion on the Western Sahara issue, he continues to believe that, 40 years after, it is important to resolve this long-standing dispute and open the way to the return of the Sahrawi refugees to their homes."
He said the secretary-general called all sides for "genuine negotiations in good faith and without preconditions at each stop on his recent trip.’’
The UN has been seeking to hold a referendum on independence for the disputed Western Sahara which was annexed by Morocco when Spain withdrew in 1975.
Instead of independence, Morocco proposes autonomy for the region.
The United Nations released a response on Wednesday, saying Ban preferred to use the word "occupation" of the territory because of "the inability of Sahrawi refugees to return home under conditions that include satisfactory governance arrangements under which all Sahrawis can freely express their desires."
However, Moroccan minister of higher education, Lahcen Daoudi invited Ban to Morocco in order "to come and see the reactions of Moroccans on the streets."