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Agence France-Presse

Spain Moves to Help Western Sahara Hunger Striker


Fernando Peraita, a Spanish activist campaigning in support of Western Sahara activist Aminatou Haidar, talks to the press at Arrecife's airport on the Spanish Canary Island of Lanzarote. Authorities in Spain's Canary Islands moved Sunday to help save the life of Haidar, who is on a three-week-old hunger strike to demand Morocco allow her to return home. (AFP)

LANZAROTE, Spain -- Authorities in Spain's Canary Islands moved to help save the life of Western Sahara activist Aminatou Haidar, who is on a three-week-old hunger strike to demand Morocco allow her to return home.

A medical examiner accompanied by a judge and police officers visited Haidar late Sunday at the airport on the Canary island of Lanzarote where she is staging her hunger strike.

The judge said afterwards he would make a ruling later in the night, but gave no further details.

Early Monday a large contingent of riot police who seemed to be preparing for Haidar's evacuation left the scene -- a possible sign that the judge had finally decided that her state of health did not warrant a forced emergency hospitalization.

The arrival of the officials and police, which caused commotion among Haidar's entourage, came after the regional government made a formal request to the court "to adopt the necessary measures to guarantee the life and physical well-being" of the activist.

"Given the time that has elapsed since the start of the hunger strike and that the events are taking place in the premises of the airport," there is "a danger to her life" that "requires urgent medical attention."

A member of her entourage earlier warned that her condition was deteriorating.

"She is going through a dangerous period," said Fernando Peraita.

"The danger comes from the fact her mental state make her seem better than she really is. She is suffering from dizziness and loss of vision. She spent a bad night, in pain."

A doctor attending to her, Domingo de Guzman Perez Hernandez, told the El Pais newspaper her life is now threatened.

"Her time is coming to an end. We're not talking in terms of weeks but in hours or days," he said.

The 42-year-old went on hunger strike on November 16, three days after Moroccan authorities denied her entry into her native Western Sahara, a disputed territory annexed by Morocco in 1975, allegedly confiscated her passport, and sent her back to Lanzarote.

The mother-of-two, who campaigns for the independence of the Western Sahara from Morocco, has camped at the Lanzarote airport to draw attention to her cause, which has been backed by several celebrities, including Oscar-winning Spanish actor Javier Bardem and film director Pedro Almodovar.

Haidar, visibly weak, remained Sunday in a small room of the airport, only emerging in a wheelchair to go to the toilet accompanied by a member of her entourage.

Peraita said Haidar is also appealing to the international community for protection for her family in Western Sahara.

He said Spanish journalists seeking to interview her two sons, aged 13 and 16, were prevented from entering the house by Moroccan police.

And he called on Spanish Prime Minister Jose-Luis Rodriguez Zapatero to intervene in the case.

"We consider the (Spanish) government responsible" for Haidar, he said. "It's a joint responsibility with the governments of Morocco and Spain."

Zapatero earlier Sunday said Spain was having some "difficulties" with Morocco over the case but "we are doing all we can" to find a "reasonable" solution.

Spain had offered to give Haidar refugee status or Spanish citizenship so she could be allowed to return home but she rejected both options on the grounds that she did not want to become "a foreigner in her own home."

Moroccan Foreign Minister Taieb Fassi Fihri said last week that Haidar had "disowned her identity and her nationality" and "must accept, on her own, the legal and moral consequences which result from this behaviour".

Morocco annexed phosphate-rich Western Sahara after Spain left in 1975 and has pledged to grant it widespread autonomy, but rules out independence as demanded by the Polisario Front movement.

While fighting in the desert territory halted in 1991, UN-sponsored talks on Western Sahara's future have made no headway.

Haidar won the Robert Kennedy human rights prize in 2008 as well as several other awards for her activism on behalf of Western Sahara.

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