RABAT: Young protesters have clashed with Moroccan security forces in Laayoune, the main city of Western Sahara, torching a police vehicle, a rights activist in the disputed territory said on Tuesday.
The protesters hurled petrol bombs at the security forces who threw rocks in response and chased them, said Hamoud Iguilid from the Moroccan Association of Human Rights.
Morocco annexed the former Spanish colony in 1975 in a move never recognised by the international community, while neighbouring Algeria backs the pro-independence Polisario Front and hosts Sahrawi refugee camps.
Rabat has vowed to invest heavily in Western Sahara in order to boost development and create jobs.
But the government has increasingly come in for criticism over human rights violations in the disputed territory, which it considers an integral part of its territory, and where separatist protests are not tolerated.
Iguilid said the demonstration took place on Monday evening in the Porco district of the city, with the youths shouting pro-independence slogans when the security forces arrived.
The Moroccan prefecture in Laayoune said the police vehicle, which was on a routine patrol, was completely destroyed when a petrol bomb landed inside it, and a policeman was hospitalised.
But Iguilid denied that anyone was injured, saying the protesters hit the armoured car with a petrol bomb, "which caused a bit of fire."
He described Monday's clashes as "limited," adding that there were ongoing problems between police and protesters in the city.