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Polisario Front leader Mohamed Abdelaziz dies

7Mohamed Abdelaziz, secretary general of movement fighting for independence of Western Sahara, dies in Algerian hospital.
Mohamed Abdelaziz, the secretary general of the Polisario Front, a movement fighting for independence of the largely desert region of Western Sahara, has died.
Abdelaziz, 68, died on Tuesday afternoon after a lengthy battle with cancer in an Algerian hospital, the official website of the separatist movement said.
The movement ordered a 40-day mourning period, after which a new secretary-general will be chosen, it added.
Khatri Abdouh, the head of the Saharawi National Council and a long-time aide of Abdelaziz, was appointed as interim Polisario leader.
Samir Bennis, the editor-in-chief of the online newspaper Morocco World News, told Al Jazeera that Abdelaziz’s death would have little impact on attempts to end the conflict.
“Abdelaziz’s death will not change anything between Morocco and Algeria, what might bring change is what happens next in Algeria.”
“Abdelaziz Bouteflika [the Algerian President] has been sick for many years, and any change will depend on who rules Algeria. If Algeria accepts the UN-brokered resolution, a new dynamic will be restored.”
Morocco has controlled most of Western Sahara since 1975 and claims sovereignty over the sparsely populated stretch of desert to its south, which has offshore fishing and phosphate reserves.
Morocco’s annexation of Western Sahara prompted an armed struggle by the Polisario Front backed by Morocco’s neighbour, Algeria.
Tens of thousands of Sahrawi civilians were forcibly expelled by the Moroccan government, and the Polisario’s leadership was forced into exile in Algeria.
The UN brokered a ceasefire in 1991, but talks to resolve the 41-year dispute have so-far failed to yield a breakthrough.
Senia Bachir, a Sahrawi activist told Al Jazeera that the Polisario Front would continue its fight for self-determination and independence following Abdelaziz’s death.
“It’s been over 40 years of struggle to attain this fundamental right and the Polisario Front, now more than ever, will continue to champion that cause until the complete liberation of our country, Western Sahara,” she said.
The Polisario has been demanding a referendum offering full independence, while Morocco has so far only been willing to offer limited autonomy under Moroccan sovereignty.