Morocco’s king vents anger at government over Rif crisis
Casablanca- Moroccan King Mohammed VI slammed the Moroccan government for failing to implement a development programme in the restive northern city of Al-Hoceima amid protests in the Rif region against corruption and marginalisation.
The king, at cabinet meeting June 25, expressed his “disappointment and concern” over the failure to meet deadlines to implement development projects as part of Al-Hoceima’s the Lighthouse of the Mediterranean programme.
The project, signed off on in October 2015, involved plans to develop various sectors, including health care and education, in the northern city. Al-Hoceima’s protests have shown how far the Lighthouse of the Mediterranean project has lagged, a communiqué released by the Royal Palace stated.
The Rif region has been a scene of regular protests since fishmonger Mouhcine Fikri was crushed to death last October inside a rubbish truck in Al-Hoceima as he apparently tried to protest the seizure and destruction of hundreds of kilogrammes of swordfish, which had been caught out of season.
Fikri’s death sparked the emergence of a grass-roots movement called Al-Hirak al-Shaabi — Popular Movement — led by Nasser Zefzafi in Al-Hoceima, demanding social justice, jobs and improved health care.
King Mohammed VI assigned the interior and finance ministers to investigate the government’s failure to execute the development programme and hold responsible parties accountable “as soon as possible.”
The king cancelled the annual leave of the ministers involved in the programme to ensure they follow up on its progress. He also appointed a new governor in Al-Hoceima.
Moroccan Prime Minister Saad Eddine El Othmani spoke out about Al-Hoceima during a news conference June 28, explaining what the government had done and intended to do regarding the situation. He announced a series of “urgent measures,” including a meeting of the majority parties.
Othmani expressed “regrets and sadness about the painful events” involving clashes in Al-Hoceima on June 25 and called for the respect of law when dealing with the protests.
The Interior Ministry announced that about 80 members of the security forces were injured in two days of clashes with protesters in Al-Hoceima and neighbouring Imzouren; 150 protesters have been detained, the Moroccan Association of Human Rights (AMDH) said.
Protesters took to the streets, calling for the release of the Hirak activists, including Zefzafi, despite the government’s relaunch of the 2015 programme to improve the region’s infrastructure.
Zefzafi was arrested after he allegedly “obstructed, in the company of a group of individuals” a preacher’s sermon at the Mohammed VI mosque during Friday prayers for its “stigmatising stance towards protesters” and called for further demonstrations.
Lawyers of activists and human rights groups said their clients were ill-treated while in detention.
Othmani said investigations into torture allegations continued and that he trusted the judiciary to guarantee fair trials to all accused.
Said Chaou, a Dutch-Moroccan national allegedly involved in the Rif unrest, was arrested June 29 in the Netherlands after a long-running diplomatic row between Rabat and Amsterdam.
Chaou, a former parliamentarian from the Rif region, was named in arrest warrants issued by a Moroccan court on charges of “criminal association” in 2010 and the other on charges of “international drug trafficking” in 2015. Moroccan authorities allege that Chaou smuggled several tonnes of cannabis into Europe and accuse him of murder. A government spokesman said Chaou would be extradited to Morocco.
Rabat recalled its ambassador to The Hague after accusing Dutch authorities of failing to take action against Chau and warned of reprisals if the extradition request was snubbed.
Chaou, who heads a group known as the September 18 Movement for the Independence of the Rif, promised the creation of “a Rifan government in exile” and a “constituent assembly” to bring together representatives of the tribes in northern Morocco.
Moroccan authorities accuse Hirak activists of “receiving money transfers and logistical support from abroad to undermine the integrity of the kingdom.” However, the movement’s leaders insist that Hirak seeks to fight for people’s basic rights such as education, health care and employment.