INTRODUCTION: Morocco has organised its first local elections in the Wadi-Ed-Dahab province of the Western Sahara which it took over from Mauritania in August 1979.
GV People in Dakhla passing billboard of King Hassan as they arrive to vote. (4 SHOTS)
SV INT Men and women placing their votes in ballot boxes before official scrutineers. (4 SHOTS)
SVs Smara: People arriving to vote. (2 SHOTS)
SVs People standing around waiting to vote. (2 SHOTS)
SV People casting votes in ballot boxes.
GVs Women leaving polling both under billboard of King Hassan.
SV Woman holding Moroccan flag as children and women gather around clapping.
GV People leaving polling booth.
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Background: INTRODUCTION: Morocco has organised its first local elections in the Wadi-Ed-Dahab province of the Western Sahara which it took over from Mauritania in August 1979. Voting took place throughout the region on Friday (8 May). However Algerian-backed Polisario guerrillas are still fighting for the independence of the region which was a former Spanish colony.
SYNOPSIS: Centre of voting operations was Dakhla Wadi-Ed-Dahab's main city. Hundreds of Western Saharans went to the polls in the tiny locality. Posters of King Hassan and Moroccan flags made the guerrilla war for the area seem far away. Officials said the elections were aimed at "regularising a de facto situation".
After Spain withdrew from the Western Sahara in 1976 Morocco shared the area with Mauritania. In 1979, the Rabat Government annexed the southern part after Mauritania withdrew under a peace agreement with the Polisario Front. The Moroccan Army has been building a security belt in recent months to protect the territory's main cities, the phosphate mines of Bu-Craa and the capital of El-Aayun. The belt runs from the garrison town of Zag near the Algerian border to Bu-Craa.
At the Western Sahara's second biggest city of Smara more than 300 voters elected the local council of Haousa. Haousa is a hamlet west of Smara and outside the area firmly controlled by the Moroccan Army. It is regarded by the Polisario guerrillas as their provisional capital pending independence.
Guerrillas are still reported in the area despite the Army's security belt. Smara's Governor Lahbib Habouha said fighting could be heard near his city until quite recently. More than 216 candidates are fighting for 123 seats in 11 local communes in the region.