Moroccan police arrest 50 after fresh protest clashes, activists say

Civil unrest has been gradually growing over recent months, initially sparked by the death of a fishmonger

Around 50 protesters were arrested following violent clashes with Moroccan police in the northern city of Al-Hoceima during the Eid al-Fitr holiday, a local rights activist said on Tuesday.

Since police in the North African country arrested Nasser Zefzafi, who organized protests against corruption and unemployment, on 29 May, demonstrations have taken place on an almost daily basis and more than 100 activists have been detained by police. Dozens of others have been sentenced to varying prison terms.

According to MAP state news agency, 39 police were admitted to hospital after being injured by “a group of individuals” who threw stones at the officials on Monday night.

The ministry of justice did not respond to a request for details on the arrests.

On Monday, clashes erupted after a renewed call for the release of those detained and imprisoned.

According to Faisal Aussar, a member of the local branch of the Moroccan Human Rights Association, police and gendarmes blocked access to Al-Hoceima from multiple directions.

He said around 50 people were detained after police fired tear gas and used batons to deal with the demonstrators.

When protest leader Nasser Zefzafi was arrested earlier in June, thousands protested for his release (Reuters)

“Even in the presence of women, police used truncheons and threw punches to disperse the protests,” Aussar said.

Protesters who had come from the neighbouring towns of Imzouren and Tammassin were pushed back by the security forces, a journalist in the city told AFP.

“Residents could not move about freely… the police systematically intervened to stop people from gathering,” he said.

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

Since October, demonstrators in Al-Hoceima have vented their frustration over economic and social problems in a kingdom where political protests used to be rare and where the government tries to present the country as a beacon of stability.

The so called “Hirak” or Peoples’ movement was born after the death of fishmonger Mouhcine Fikri who was crushed inside a garbage truck trying to recover fish confiscated by police. His death became a symbol of corruption and official abuses.

Over the weekend, King Mohammed VI presided over a government council meeting where he expressed his “displeasure and concern” regarding the delay in promised development projects in the region, according to a statement on MAP.

Mohammed VI ordered the minister of interior and minister of finance to carry out investigations into the reason behind the project delays, the statement read. But there was no mention of a possible pardon for arrested protest leaders.