Morocco’s king vents anger at government over Rif crisis

Sunday 02/07/2017
Regional grievances. Protesters of the Rif movement Hirak demonstrate against the government in Imouzren, on June 11. (AFP)

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.