Five Dead in Morocco Violence, Says Interior Minister


Five bodies were found in a bank set ablaze in unrest that erupted in Morocco at the weekend after thousands of people demonstrated in several cities for change, the government said Monday.

Another 128 people, including 115 members of the security forces, were wounded in the violence that followed largely peaceful demonstrations Sunday to demand political reform, Interior Minister Taib Cherkaoui told reporters.

The minister said 120 people were arrested after the unrest in around six cities but minors among those rounded up had been returned to their families.

The Morocco protests demanding political reform and limits on the powers of King Mohammed VI follow uprisings across the region, with ones in Tunisia and Egypt causing their longtime presidents to quit.

The "burned bodies of five people were recovered inside one of the bank branches set alight by rioters in the city of Al Hoceima," Cherkaoui said.

The official MAP news agency, citing witnesses, said the bodies were of "rioters who had tried to loot the bank" while others set fire to the building.

The minister blamed Sunday's violence on rioters and ex-convicts, saying they had damaged or set fire to 33 public buildings, 24 banks, 50 businesses or private buildings and 66 vehicles.

In the northern town of Larache they had entered a customs building and made off with confiscated drugs and alcohol, he said.

Cherkaoui said the demonstrations had largely taken place in "calm and discipline" because Moroccans had the democratic right to express themselves. About 37,000 took part, he said.

Witnesses said police used tear gas against protesters in Al Hoceima after they set fire to cars and threw stones at a police station.

Communication Minister Khalid Naciri vowed that the government would speed up reforms in the wake of Sunday's pro-reform protests.

"Moroccan democracy is maturing. At a time when demonstrators in other Arab countries are met with violence, in Morocco they face institutional and political serenity," he added.

He stressed that the message of the demonstrators "had been heard" by authorities.

"These reform demands have been part of our national agenda since King Mohammed VI came to power (in 1999). Now we need to move into higher gear," Naciri said.

The king himself spoke of his commitment to "pursuing the realization of structural reforms" in comments at the launch of a consultative economic council in Casablanca Monday.

He also expressed his willingness to "strengthen" the country's accomplishments "by new reforms."

In the capital Rabat Sunday, between 3,000 and 4,000 people took to the streets shouting: "The people want change." They denounced corruption and called for a democratic constitution to be adopted.

In Casablanca, the North African nation's biggest city, more than 4,000 people came out demanding: "Freedom, dignity, justice."

The tourist hub of Marrakesh was one of the areas that saw violence Sunday, with 150-200 people attacking and looting shops including a branch of eatery McDonald's, one witness said.

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.

One of the initiators of the "February 20" drive, Oussama Khlifi, said protests would continue, with daily sit-ins called for in major towns, including Rabat and Casablanca.

"The people have expressed their support for political reform. The mobilization will continue," he told Agence France Presse.

Moroccans are "demanding real reforms, work, more democracy, that things are not half done," said Khadiga Mohsen Finan, a researcher at the Paris VIII University.

An Islamist deputy meanwhile resigned Monday from Morocco's opposition Justice and Development party to protest its decision not to take part in Sunday's nationwide protests.

"Sunday's march was highly civilized and peaceful and our party should not have called for a boycott," said Mustafa Ramid, whose party is represented in parliament.

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