1 000s protest in Moroccan capital

2011-06-13 10:06

Casablanca - Thousands marched through Morocco's largest city on Sunday calling for greater democracy and an end to corruption even as the king prepares to unveil new constitutional amendments to address calls for reform.

There was only a light police presence blocking off traffic as about 6 000 protesters flowed through the wide streets of downtown Casablanca chanting slogans against the government. Past demonstrations had been violently dispersed.

The march showed the continuing viability of the February 20 pro-democracy movement, even as the king's own constitutional reform process seeks to co-opt many of their demands.

"In Morocco we learned something, never trust the Makhzen," said demonstrator Kamel Reda, referring to the government and the king's advisers. "We don't believe them out of experience."

Unlike the popular uprisings sweeping other Arab countries, Morocco's activists are not calling for the king's ouster, just a limiting of his powers and changing the country into a constitutional monarchy.

On March 09, the king acknowledged protester demands and ordered a panel of experts to modify the constitution to limit his powers, strengthen the judiciary and promote greater democracy.

The February 20 movement expressed skepticism at the process, noting that the king had appointed the constitutional committee and so the activists refused to participate in the process.

On Friday, the king was presented the new constitution and it was shown to political party leaders. Though its contents have not been made public, media accounts suggest many of its provisions meet protesters' demands.

Good elements

But Sunday's demonstrators remained deeply sceptical of the new constitution because of the way it had been drawn up, and many of the slogans chanted called for greater popular input into reform.

Jihad Oufaraji, a 34-year-old activist, said that while he had heard the new constitution had some good elements to it, there was still the whole overarching power structure that had to be changed.

"We need to clean up the country of the thieves and take back the money they are sending out of the country," he said as marchers chanted behind him.

Many protesters carried pictures of Kamal Amari, a 30-year-old member of the February 20 movement who died in a hospital on June 02 after allegedly being beaten by police at a protest a few days earlier in the city of Safi, south of Casablanca.

The official coroner's report maintains he died from heart and respiratory troubles from a pre-existing condition - something his parents deny. Pictures of a bruised face bearing the slogan "we are all Kamal Amari" were everywhere in the march.

A similar slogan was used after the death at police hands in Egypt of young businessman Khaled Said, which helped spark the popular uprising that a few months later brought down the president.

Since Amari's death, Moroccan police have refrained from violently dispersing demonstrations as had been their earlier policy.