Morocco refuses hunger striker permission to land

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Stretchered out of an ambulance, her face covered with a turquoise blanket, hunger striking and human rights activist Aminatou Haidar returned to her makeshift home of the past 19 days in Lanzarote airport amid the tears of her supporters.

Stefan Simanowitz reports from Lanzarote

It was a far cry from the scene just an hour earlier as a jubilant crowd cheered and chanted as the Nobel Prize nominee was helped into an ambulance and boarded a plane with her doctor, Alberto Guzman, her lawyer Ines Miranda, and cabinet chief of the Spanish Foreign Ministry Agustin Santos bound for Western Sahara.

In a dramatic twist to protracted dispute, the plane that was due to carry Ms Haidar victorious back home, failed to take off from Lanzarote airport after the Moroccan government refused to give it permission to land.

In angry scenes at the airport terminal actor and Western Sahara activist Willie Toledo challenged Delia Blanco’s accusation that the reason that Ms Haidar had not been given permission to travel by the Moroccans was that she had been too slow in boarding the plane.

“It is ridiculous for the Moroccans to suggest that a woman who is weak from hunger has missed her “window of opportunity” to travel back to her family because she took an extra ten minutes to board her ambulance. For a Spanish government official to repeat such nonsense is a disgrace.”

Earlier on, news of her departure had broken after a tense day during which a visibly weak Haidar had received delegations from Algeria and Britain. And her doctor had expressed concerns that her condition was now critical.

Around 60 supporters had gathered to watch Ms Haidar’s ambulance drive away. While many expressed amazement at the sudden victorious resolution of the hungerstike: “I cannot believe this is happening” one tearing woman had said “I so worried that she might die.” Others were more circumspect and said they were waiting for a phonecall from Ms Haidar once her plane had touched down in Layoune, Western Sahara before the really start celebrating. Their fears have benn cofirmed.

Known as the “Saharawi Gandhi”, Haidar was deported from her home in occupied Western Sahara to Lanzarote by the Moroccan authorities on 14th November and has been on hunger strike in the airport terminal ever since.

She has declined an offer by Spain to grant her refugee status and is demanding a return of her passport, confiscated by the Moroccan authorites before her explusion.

Her deportation has been condemned by human rights organisations including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. The US State Department last week issued a statement urging a speedy return of Ms Haidar to her home and on Tuesday a motion expressing “dismay” at her treatment was table in the British House of Commons.

Agustin Santos said tonight that the Spanish were seeking permission from the Moroccan government to allow Ms Haidar to travel tomorrow.

Meanwhile, the mood in Arrecife international airport and in the occupied territories of Western Sahara and in the Saharawi refugee camps of South West Algeria, is one of anger.

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