18:01 GMT04 August 2020
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    The Swedish furniture giant had already fitted out and hired staff for its new store close to Casablanca, when the Moroccan government pulled the plug on the project.

    The Moroccan authorities have blocked the planned opening of an Ikea store close to the city of Casablanca, reportedly in retaliation for the Swedish government's recognition of Western Sahara as a separate entity from Morocco.

    The decision was taken at a meeting of the Moroccan government and opposition on Monday, according to a report from the Moroccan news website Le360. Ikea was consequently denied a permit to open its store on Tuesday at a shopping center around 30 kilometers away from Casablanca.

    It is not clear if the obstruction of the project is permanent, or whether the Swedish furniture giant will be able to open the store at a later date; the new store is the first of five the company intended to open in Morocco, following the launch of a nationwide marketing campaign on September 1.

    Ikea is not the first company to fall afoul of Morocco's claims on Western Sahara, which it has administered since the 1970s. In July the taxi transport application Uber outraged Moroccans by listing Western Sahara as a separate country in a list of countries where the applications has plans to expand. Following an outcry of protest on social networks, Uber Morocco announced that the listing would be removed within ten days.

    Western Sahara, an area which is rich in phosphate deposits, a key ingredient in fertilizer, is a former province of Spain. Most of it has been administered by Morocco since a 1975 agreement with Spain that ended colonial rule and partitioned the area, putting the majority of its territory under the control of Morocco.

    In 1976 the Polisario Front separatist movement declared an independent Saharan Arab Democratic Republic (SADR), and has continued to push for a referendum on independence from Moroccan rule, with backing from Algeria. 

    In April 2015 the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 2218, which aims to find a lasting solution through negotiations with SADR representatives, the Moroccan government, and neighboring states in order to reach a political resolution to the 40-year-old dispute. 


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