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IN PICTURES: Sahara Marathon in support of Sahrawi republic

The conflict for the Western Sahara began in the early 1970s, when the Polisario Front strove for independence from Spain
A runner crosses the finish line at the 16th Sahara Marathon (AFP)

Some 500 runners from North Africa, Europe and North America competed in the 16th Sahara Marathon on Tuesday, organisers said. 

The event - which sets off from the Tindouf refugee camp in Algeria - was timed to coincide with the 40th anniversary of the declaration of the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) on 27 February 1976, Saharawi Minister of Youth and Sports Ahmed Lahbib Abdi, told reporters.

"It's a race to prevent the Saharawi population from falling into oblivion as a 37-year conflict buries - generation after generation - the hopes of a population that lives in camps in the Tindouf area, while the international community fails to change the situation," organisers said in a statement. 

The conflict in the Western Sahara began in the early 1970s, when the Polisario Front strove for independence from Spain. While the colonial rulers were thrown out, the Polisario Front was then forced to fight against Mauritanian and Moroccan forces. In February 1976, the Polisario Front declared the establishment of the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic but in 1976 Morocco annexed the territory, with the issue remaining unresolved till today. 

The marathon is not to be confused with the Marathon Des Sables, a 250km "ultra-marathon" that takes place over seven days and is seen as one of the world's most gruelling sports challenges. It is scheduled to taka place in April. 

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