Protesters hold portraits of grassroots leader Nasser Zefzafi during a demonstration June 4, 2017 in Rabat in solidarity with Morocco’s neglected Rif region. Nasser Zefzafi, was arrested May 29, 2017 after three days on the run. Outrage erupted last year over the gruesome death of a fishmonger in Rif, with calls for justice moving into a grassroots movement demanding jobs and hospitals. / AFP PHOTO / STR
Protesters in northern Morocco have remained defiant for a second week, taking their anger over unemployment and alleged corruption to the streets.
On Sunday, hundreds took part in a ninth straight night of protests in Al-Hoceima and other towns in the Rif region, although an AFP correspondent said the crowds appeared to be growing smaller.
They chanted demands for the release of protest leader Nasser Zefzafi after he was arrested on Monday last week. A solidarity rally was also held in the capital Rabat.
Around 40 activists and key members of the grassroots Al-Hirak Al-Shaabi — or “Popular Movement” — led by Zefzafi have been detained since May 26.
Al-Hoceima has been the focal point of protests in the neglected Rif region, with demonstrators demanding greater development and railing against corruption, repression and unemployment.
The government said Sunday, the final day of a three-day general strike, that “the doors to dialogue remain open”, despite clashes which erupted at the weekend and the previous week between demonstrators and security forces.
Al-Hoceima and surrounding areas have been shaken by social unrest ever since the death last October of 31-year-old fishmonger Mouhcine Fikri.
He was crushed in a rubbish truck as he protested against the seizure of swordfish caught out of season.
Protesters in the Rif have rejected the mediation of local officials, accusing them of corruption, and branded the central authorities a “police state”.
With the apparent breakdown in trust, the weekly Maroc Hebdo pointed to parallels with major protests of 2011 when uprisings ripped through the Middle East and North Africa.
The mainly ethnically Berber Rif region has long had a tense relationship with the central authorities in Rabat, and it was at the heart of the Arab Spring-inspired protests in Morocco in February 2011.
“It seems that only the king really has the means to calm the situation,” said Maroc Hebdo, adding that the Moroccan people were waiting to see “if he will intervene”.
King Mohamed VI relinquished some of his near-absolute control through constitutional reforms following the 2011 protests.