Mon, Feb 21, 2011 - Page 6 News List

Thousands demand change in Morocco

AFP and Reuters, RABAT

Several thousand people rallied in Moroccan cities yesterday demanding political reform and limits on the powers of Moroccan King Mohammed VI, the latest protests demanding change that have rocked the region.

More than 2,000 people took to the streets of the capital Rabat, shouting: “The people want change.” In Casablanca, the North African nation’s biggest city, over 1,000 people came out demanding: “Freedom, dignity, justice,” a reporter said.

Demonstrations were held in other Moroccan cities, including the port of Tangier. The demonstrations were peaceful as of midday.

Thousands of young Moroccans have joined the “February 20” movement on the social networking site Facebook, calling for peaceful demonstrations demanding a new constitution limiting the king’s powers and more social justice.

The call has similar origins to the so-called “Facebook revolutions” that toppled decades-old regimes in Tunisia and Egypt and sparked deadly protests in Bahrain, Yemen, Algeria and Libya.

In Rabat, protestors carried banners that read: “The king must reign, not govern” and “The people want a new constitution.”

“I want a Morocco that’s more fair and with less corruption,” a student demonstrator said in Casablanca who asked not to be named.

“We’ve got nothing against the king, but we want more justice and work,” said another student who gave his name as Brahim.

Ahead of the protest, Morocco promised to inject 1.4 billion euros (US$1.9 billion) in subsidies to soften price hikes for staples — a key factor among others including rampant unemployment behind the spreading unrest in the Arab world.

That came despite an earlier reassurance that Morocco was unlikely to see Tunisia or Egypt-style unrest because of ongoing reforms by the king, who has ruled the country for more than a decade. Human rights and civil groups as well as independent journalists joined the movement, calling for the adoption of a democratic Constitution.

However, on Saturday one of the protests’ organizers, Rachid Antid, told reporters he was pulling out of the rally because of the inclusion of Islamist and leftist groups with which they share “ideological differences.”

Antid’s movement has made clear its commitment to keeping the monarchy. The banned Islamist group Justice and Charity disputes the king’s eligibility for the religious title of Commander of the Faithful and has said the country should enact deep reforms or face peaceful popular protests to eradicate “autocracy.”

The youth wing of Justice and Charity, believed to be Morocco’s biggest opposition force, called for a peaceful rally.

Other groups, including the pro-regime Istiqlal of Moroccan Prime Minister Abbas el-Fassi and the Islamist opposition Justice and Development, openly rejected the demonstration.

Observers said that despite widespread inequalities in Moroccan society, the existence of some political pluralism and a relatively free press mean that the country has as yet been spared the mass protests sweeping other Middle Eastern and North African nations.

However, calls have been growing for the king to have less say in government. The current system is a constitutional monarchy granting the king sweeping powers, including naming the prime minister.

The Moroccan authorities have repeatedly said that demonstrations show the country’s political openness and that citizens can demonstrate freely provided they do not threaten “vital interests.”

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