Morocco blocks Ikea store opening

Ikea flags in front of a new Ikea store in Saint-Pierre-d'Irube in south-western France.
Ikea flags in front of a new Ikea store in Saint-Pierre-d'Irube in south-western France. PHOTO: AFP

RABAT (REUTERS) - The Moroccan authorities have blocked the opening of Ikea's first store in the North African kingdom planned for Tuesday (Sept 29) because it lacked a "conformity permit," a statement from the Interior Ministry said on Monday (Sept 28).

A news website close to the Moroccan Palace said earlier on Monday that the store opening had been blocked because of Sweden's plans to recognise a republic sought by the Polisario Front in the Western Sahara.

The government did not elaborate on the store's permit problems. Ikea's Moroccan subsidiary told local media that the opening of the 26,000 sq m store had been cancelled.

The store is based in Morocco's largest mall near the city of Mohamedia. The mall was built by a joint venture including Dubai-based Al-Futtaim Group, Moroccan supermarket chain Marjane Holding and Portuguese Sonae Sierra.

Morocco has controlled most of the Western Sahara since 1975 and claims the sparsely populated stretch of desert, which has offshore fishing, phosphate reserves and oilfield potential, as its own.

However, the Algeria-backed Polisario Front seeks independence, and a United Nations mission was formed more than 20 years ago ahead of an expected referendum on the Western Sahara's political future, which has never taken place.

Sweden and other Scandinavian countries have been supporters of Western Saharan self-determination, while France and Spain have been accused by activists and human rights organisations of supporting the Moroccan side.

Polisario's planned Sahrawi Republic has been recognised by some countries mainly from the African Union, but none of the Western powers have recognised it.

The Swedish government and Ikea could not be immediately reached for a comment.

It was unclear if the block was temporary or if permits would be granted for the store in the future.