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Thousands of Moroccans Stage Peaceful Pro-Democracy Protests

April 25, 2011

Thousands stage peaceful pro-democracy protests

By Helen PERCIVAL (video)

News Wires (text)  


Several thousand demonstrators marched peacefully in Moroccan cities Sunday to demand more democracy and social justice despite King Mohammed VI's concessions, including the release of political prisoners.

Protest rallies began Sunday morning in Casablanca, Tangiers and Marrakesh, correspondents said, while another was held in Rabat in response to a call by the pro-reform February 20 Movement.

The movement is named after the date of Morocco's first countrywide protests that came amid the wave of popular uprisings that swept across the Arab world.

"We want more equality and less corruption," "We want a king who rules but does not govern," demonstrators chanted in Casablanca.

In Casablanca, nearly 10,000 people, according to an AFP correspondent, massed in the city centre and later marched to Mohammed VI square. Organisers however put the turnout at nearly 20,000.

"I am here because I want a more just Morocco in which opportunities are the same for all young people, particularly in the area of jobs," said a 23-year-old university graduate who identified himself only as Mohammed.

Key demands of the marchers in Casablanca -- February 20 Movement activists for the most part -- were curbs on the powers of the king, an independent judiciary and steps against corruption.

In Marrakesh, an AFP correspondent said more than 500 people took to the streets to press for political reforms while in Tangiers, more than 2,000 marched to demand the resignation of the mayor, Fouad El Omary, and lambast his administration.

The Rabat march drew 6,000 people according to organisers and was held in the working class Yacoub El Mansour district. However, police put their numbers at around 2,000.

In a March 9 speech, King Mohammed VI announced major political changes to increase judicial independence and the separation of powers.

The next day, he established a commission tasked with proposing changes to the constitution by June.

Ten days ago, the king pardoned or cut the sentences of 190 detainees, including Islamist and Sahrawi political prisoners.  

King Mohammed VI pardons scores of political prisoners

By News Wires (text)  


Morocco freed 92 political prisoners on Thursday, including a prominent anti-corruption activist and a controversial preacher, under a pardon issued by the king following street protests demanding democratic reform.

The pardon also commuted to limited prison terms death penalties for five others and life imprisonments for 37 others, officials from the National Council for Human Rights said.

Prison terms for 53 others were also reduced.

The majority of those freed or whose sentences were reduced were members of the Islamist Salafist Jihad group.

Mohamed Sebbar, appointed secretary general of the Council by King Mohammed in March, said the pardon was a prelude to a thorough review of the cases of political prisoners in Morocco.

Those freed included preacher Mohammed Fizazi, who was sentenced in 2003 to 30 years in jail after he was convicted of inspiring 12 suicide bombers to kill 33 people in Casablanca earlier that year, in Morocco’s deadliest bomb attack.

Local human right groups have said hundreds, including Salafist Jihad sympathisers, were jailed after the attack in politically motivated trials, often without solid evidence.

Last month, King Mohammed announced constitutional reform to give up some of his sweeping powers and make the judiciary independent in Morocco, a staunch ally of the West.

It came after a youth-led movement called February 20 spearheaded some of the biggest anti-establishment protests in decades in the North African country, with demands that included the release of political prisoners.

“This pardon indicates that the king has once again picked up the streets’ message,” political analyst Ahmed el-Bouz said.

'Sham case'

Five people who were jailed in 2009 after a court convicted them of plotting terrorist attacks in the country and who were among those freed were present at Thursday’s news conference, including prominent figures of two moderate Islamist parties.

“I would like to thank the youth of February 20 Movement,”Mustapha Mouatassim, one of them, said.

Abdelhafid Sriti, a correspondent of Hizbollah’s al-Manar television channel in Morocco, was another released prisoner.

Mostly-veiled female relatives broke into tears and chanted "God is Greatest" when the group was brought to the Council venue in black cars.

One woman, Houria Amer, wept in disappointment when she realised that her husband Luqman Mokhtar, who was also jailed in 2009, was not among them.

“They have all been jailed unfairly under the same sham case. How can they free some and leave others in prison?” she told Reuters.

Corruption whistleblower and human right activist Chakib El-Khiari, jailed for three years in 2009 after accusing high-ranking officials of involvement in drug trafficking, was among those pardoned and freed.

Human rights group Amnesty International has said Khiari was a prisoner of conscience, detained solely for his anti-corruption statements and human rights activities.

According to U.S. diplomatic cables made public by WikiLeaks in December, corruption is prevalent at all levels of society and has become "much more institutionalised with King Mohammed".

The government earlier this month promised to protect corruption whistleblowers.  

Dozens injured in Casablanca protest

By News Wires (text)  


Dozens of protesters were injured, some seriously, Sunday during a clash with security forces who tried to storm the headquarters of a left-wing party in Casablanca, witnesses and and reporters said.

The protesters had sought refuge in the offices of the Unified Socialist Party (PSU) after the security forces broke up a peaceful demonstration calling for political reforms.

A violent confrontation ensued during which a reporter said he witnessed police beating a pregnant woman and some young girls. "It was unusually violent," he said.

"We were meeting in the political office and were about to publish a communique praising the king's speech last Wednesday when the security forces tried to break in," Mohamed Bouaziz, a PSU leader, told AFP.

"The Casablanca governor gave the order," he said. "I consider this a serious political mistake and an action directed against His Majesty (King Mohammed VI), who promised to strengthen individual freedoms."

Earlier, security forces sealed off Mohammed V Square, the site of most demonstrations in the city, and forcefully kept protesters and pedestrians away, an AFP journalist and witnesses said.

The activists were from the Islamist Justice and Charity movement, which is banned but tolerated in Morocco and is one of the north African country's most important political parties.

King Mohammed VI on Wednesday announced sweeping democratic reforms including an elected prime minister and broader personal freedoms in his first speech to the nation since demonstrations on February 20 calling for democratisation and less corruption.

The Moroccan press on Friday described the promised reforms, announced amid popular uprisings rocking the Arab world, as "historic" while speculating over the future of some members of the king's entourage.  

MOROCCO King announces democratic reform

MOROCCO Single mother sets herself on fire in protest against social status

MOROCCO Five charred bodies found after Moroccan protesters demand reform

MOROCCO Dozens injured in Casablanca protest

MOROCCO King Mohammed VI pardons scores of political prisoners

MOROCCO Moroccans rally for democracy


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