Moroccans rally to demand political reform

Demonstrators demand justice, work and less corruption as thousands take to streets in Rabat and Casablanca.

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RABAT // Several thousand people rallied in Moroccan cities demanding political reform and limits on the powers of the king, the latest protests demanding change to have rocked the region.

At least 5,000 people, according to news agencies, took to the streets of the capital Rabat, shouting: "The people want change."  Some people in the crowd waved Tunisian and Egyptian flags in recognition of the popular uprisings that overthrew the two countries' presidents.

Some called on the fragile coalition government of Prime Minister Abbas El Fassi to leave. Placards and slogans made no direct attacks on the king although one criticised the influence of firms in which his family is the biggest investor.

Mustapha Muchtati of the Baraka group, which helped organise the march, said: "This is a peaceful protest to push for constitutional reform, restore dignity and end graft and the plundering of public funds." "Baraka" means "enough" in colloquial Moroccan Arabic.

In Casablanca, the nation's biggest city, more than 1,000 people came out demanding: "Freedom, dignity, justice," an AFP correspondent reported.

"I want a Morocco that's more fair and with less corruption," said a student demonstrator 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.

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 protests in Bahrain, Yemen and Algeria.

Before of the protest, Morocco promised to inject €1.4 billion (Dh7bn) in subsidies to soften price rises for staples, an important factor, among others, including rampant unemployment, behind the spreading unrest in the Arab world.

That came despite an earlier reassurance that Morocco is unlikely to see Tunisia or Egypt-style unrest because of reforms by King Mohammed VI, 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, one of the protests' organisers, Rachid Antid, told AFP he was pulling out of Sunday's rally because of the inclusion of Islamist and far-left groups with which they share "ideological differences."

The youth wing of the banned Islamist group Justice and Charity, believed to be Morocco's biggest opposition force, called for a peaceful rally.

Others, including the pro-regime Istiqlal and the Islamist opposition Justice and Development, openly rejected the demonstration.

Finance minister Salaheddine Mezouar had urged citizens to boycott the march, warning that any "slip may in the space of a few weeks cost us what we have achieved over the last 10 years".

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