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Moroccan king visits contested Western Sahara to mark 40th anniversary since annexation

  • Moroccan women parade in a street of Laayoune, the capital of disputed territories of the Western Sahara, Friday, Nov.6, 2015. Morocco's King Mohammed VI visits the Western Sahara Friday to mark the 40th anniversary of the Green March, when thousands of unarmed Moroccans were sent by his father, late King Hassan II, to pressure Spanish army to withdraw from the territory. (AP Photo/Abdeljalil Bounhar)

    Moroccan women parade in a street of Laayoune, the capital of disputed territories of the Western Sahara, Friday, Nov.6, 2015. Morocco's King Mohammed VI visits the Western Sahara Friday to mark the 40th anniversary of the Green March, when thousands of unarmed Moroccans were sent by his father, late King Hassan II, to pressure Spanish army to withdraw from the territory. (AP Photo/Abdeljalil Bounhar)  (The Associated Press)

  • Security forces walk in a camp set up for festivities outside of Laayoune, the capital of disputed territories of the Western Sahara, Friday, Nov.6, 2015. Morocco's King Mohammed VI visits the Western Sahara Friday to mark the 40th anniversary of the Green March, when thousands of unarmed Moroccans were sent by his father, late King Hassan II, to pressure Spanish army to withdraw from the territory. Banner reads: Green March 40th anniversary. (AP Photo/Abdeljalil Bounhar)

    Security forces walk in a camp set up for festivities outside of Laayoune, the capital of disputed territories of the Western Sahara, Friday, Nov.6, 2015. Morocco's King Mohammed VI visits the Western Sahara Friday to mark the 40th anniversary of the Green March, when thousands of unarmed Moroccans were sent by his father, late King Hassan II, to pressure Spanish army to withdraw from the territory. Banner reads: Green March 40th anniversary. (AP Photo/Abdeljalil Bounhar)  (The Associated Press)

  • Morocco's King Mohammed VI right, and his brother Prince Moulay Rachid, begin a campaign to promote Morocco's decentralization plan and boost investment in Laayoune, the capital of disputed territories of the Western Sahara, Saturday, Nov. 7, 2015. King Mohammed VI is making his first official visit to the Western Sahara since 2006 to mark the 40th anniversary of the Green March, when thousands of unarmed Moroccans were sent by his father, the late King Hassan II, to pressure the Spanish army to withdraw from the territory. (AP Photo/Abdeljalil Bounhar)

    Morocco's King Mohammed VI right, and his brother Prince Moulay Rachid, begin a campaign to promote Morocco's decentralization plan and boost investment in Laayoune, the capital of disputed territories of the Western Sahara, Saturday, Nov. 7, 2015. King Mohammed VI is making his first official visit to the Western Sahara since 2006 to mark the 40th anniversary of the Green March, when thousands of unarmed Moroccans were sent by his father, the late King Hassan II, to pressure the Spanish army to withdraw from the territory. (AP Photo/Abdeljalil Bounhar)  (The Associated Press)

Moroccan King Mohammed VI is making his first official visit to the Western Sahara since 2006 to mark the 40th anniversary of the country's annexation of the mineral rich territory.

In addition to commemorating the 1975 annexation Morocco calls the "Green March," the visit is part of a campaign to promote Morocco's decentralization plan and boost investment.

The visit, which began Friday, has sparked anger among Sahrawis in the territory, and in refugee camps outside Tindouf, Algeria, run by the Polisario Front pro-independence movement.

Rights groups say Morocco uses violence to stifle dissent. On Thursday, Human Right Watch called for the release or retrial of 21 Sahrawis arrested for their role in the 2010 Gdeim Izik protest camp outside Laayoune.