Sunday 22 April 2018

New clashes rock Morocco's restive north

New clashes rock Morocco's restive north
(AFP 06/27/17)

Moroccan security forces clashed Monday with demonstrators in Al-Hoceima, activists and witnesses said, a day after King Mohammed VI criticised delays in development in the restive northern city.

The clashes erupted after hundreds of demonstrators took to the streets of Al-Hoceima in the late afternoon despite police roadblocks, activists said.

They said they had planned to hold a major rally but the police "completely locked down" the city, cutting off routes and using force to disperse protesters.

"Residents could not move about freely... the police systematically intervened to stop people from gathering," a journalist in the city told AFP.

Protesters who had come from the neighbouring towns of Imzouren and Tammassin were pushed back by the security forces, he said.

The demonstrators were "brutally repressed by the security forces", the journalist said.

Clashes also broke out in the town of Ajdir between demonstrators and security forces, the journalist said, adding that some people were injured and a dozen arrested.

Al-Hoceima, a key port in the neglected northern Rif region, has been hit by unrest since October.

It came after a fishmonger was crushed to death in a rubbish truck as he tried to retrieve swordfish that authorities had thrown away because it was caught out of season.

Calls for justice snowballed into a wider social movement dubbed Al-Hirak al-Shaabi, or the "Popular Movement", demanding jobs, development, and an end to corruption in the mainly Berber region.

Authorities have arrested more than 100 people including Hirak leader Nasser Zefzafi, and clashes between police and demonstrators have continued for weeks.

Sunday's demonstrators called for the release of Hirak activists.

The government has responded to the unrest by relaunching a 2015 programme to improve the region's infrastructure, health facilities and education services by 2019.

Interior Minister Abdelouafi Laftit said in early June that the projects "respond to 90 percent of the demands of the population".

But on Sunday the Moroccan king rebuked ministers over delays to the development programme.

He told a cabinet meeting of his "disappointment, dissatisfaction and concern" that the $670 million (600 million euro) programme in the Rif was behind schedule, according to a government statement.

The king also cancelled the annual leave of ministers involved in programme so they can "monitor" its progress, it said.

The Rif has long had a tense relationship with central authorities in Rabat, and it was at the heart of the Arab Spring-inspired protests in Morocco in February 2011.

King Mohamed VI relinquished some of his near-absolute control through constitutional reforms following the 2011 protests.

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