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Morocco police beat W.Sahara activists-campaigners

RABAT, May 25 (Reuters) - Moroccan police have beaten and imprisoned dozens of Western Sahara independence activists demonstrating on university campuses in recent weeks, rights campaigners said on Friday.

More than 25 students remain in prison after a wave of arrests that began on May 7 in the tourist town of Agadir in southern Morocco.

A group of Sahrawi students were holding a sit-in at the Agadir campus to demand better healthcare and housing and voice their support for Western Sahara independence movement Polisario ahead of U.N.-backed talks on the territory's future next month.

Sahrawi campaigners said Moroccan students attacked the protesters, then the police arrived and began beating the Sahrawi students, injuring 20 of them. One had internal bleeding and needed urgent surgery, said Sahrawi rights group ASVDH.

A sympathy demonstration in Marrakesh a few days later was broken up by Moroccan police who encircled the protesters and beat them for over half an hour, the group said.

"The security agents formed a circle around me and beat and kicked me with their bludgeons and feet," ASVDH cited female student Sultana Khaya as saying. "After this my eye burst."

A week-long sit-in by Sahrawis at a student housing complex in the capital Rabat was broken up on May 17 in a dawn raid by dozens of police who beat many of the students, some of whom fought back by throwing stones, according to witnesses.

"This was a peaceful sit-in in which the students just waved banners," said Khadija Riyadi, president of Moroccan independent human rights association AMDH.

"Violence against Sahrawi students has grown this year and there have been more trials," she said.

The government denied the police used excessive force to break up the demonstrations, saying they had intervened each time to separate rival gangs of students.

"It's clear that each time it's been groups of students fighting each other, forcing the police to intervene," said a government official who asked not to be named. "The police were working in tough situations and in some cases arms were seized."

Morocco annexed most of Western Sahara in 1975 claiming centuries-old rights over the desert territory.

Independence movement Polisario Front, backed by Algeria, fought back with a low-level guerrilla until 1991 when the United Nations brokered a ceasefire which has been observed by both sides since.

Polisario and Morocco have agreed to U.N.-backed talks next month under heavy pressure from the United States and the region's former colonial powers France and Spain.

Both sides say they have made concessions but few expect rapid progress to end the dispute.

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