Dozens of activists injured in Moroccan protests

Tue, Mar 15, 2011, 00:00

MOROCCO:DOZENS OF people were injured and more than 100 arrested in Morocco after demonstrations by protesters unconvinced by King Mohammed’s concessions on political reform.

Riot police used truncheons to break up a rally in Morocco’s biggest city, Casablanca, on Sunday – the latest in a series of weekly protests in the country over the past month.

Reports suggested dozens were injured when police tried to storm the Unified Socialist Party headquarters, where protesters had sought refuge during clashes.

At least some of the demonstrators were activists from the Justice and Charity Party (PJB), an Islamist movement which is banned but tolerated by the authorities. The group, believed to be Morocco’s largest opposition force, has called for “deep and urgent” democratic reform and an end to autocracy.

Mustapha Mouzouni, the Casablanca prefect, appeared on national television to justify the police intervention against people he said were determined to “terrorise citizens and sow discord”.

Oussama El-Khifli, one of the organisers of the Moroccan protest movement, told Le Monde yesterday police charged the crowd as they began a sit-in demonstration, arresting 123 people. “We will continue to protest for radical change,” he said, predicting a “surprise” for next weekend when a further march is planned.

The police crackdown came just days after King Mohammed made a speech announcing a package of political reforms. With the Moroccan authorities anxiously watching the unrest elsewhere in north Africa, the monarch said he had appointed a committee to draft a reform of the constitution to strengthen the powers of the prime minister and local officials, underpin the judiciary’s independence and allow for a government that was not appointed but chosen by the people in free elections.

The speech was described as “historic” by the Moroccan press and warmly welcomed by the US, France and Spain, but left-wing opposition parties and the PJB have said the proposals fall short of their demands.

Morocco is officially a constitutional monarchy with an elected parliament. The constitution, however, empowers the king to dissolve the legislature, impose a state of emergency and have a key say in appointments to sensitive government posts, including that of prime minister.