Morocco police fire tear gas as protesters defy govt ban

Police in the northern Moroccan city of Al-Hoceima on Thursday fired tear gas to disperse protesters and stop them marching in defiance of a government ban.

Organisers from the Al-Hirak al-Shaabi movement dubbed the demonstration the “million-man march” and said they would go ahead with it despite an injunction.

Al-Hoceima, the main port in the Rif region, has been hit by unrest since a fishmonger was crushed to death in a rubbish truck last year as he tried to retrieve swordfish confiscated for being caught out of season.

This year has seen waves of protests and bouts of violence in the Rif, where residents have long complained of neglect and marginalisation.

Scores of police could be seen around Al-Hoceima since early morning, and by early afternoon they began sealing off access to all the main squares while shops were closed, an AFP journalist said.

Al-Hirak has won strong support among the region’s diaspora and many former Rif residents living abroad had returned to the city to join the march.

By late afternoon hundreds of people began gathering in several meeting points across the city intent on marching as planned, but as they tried to advance the police charged and pushed them back.

In the Sidi Abed neighbourhood, police fired tear gas at demonstrators who were chanting “Long live the Rif” and “Long Live Zefzafi” — in reference to jailed Al-Hirak leader Nasser Zefzafi.

Witnesses said demonstrators hurled stones at the police as they charged and knocked some on the ground, and that security forces threw stones back at them.

Police arrested around 12 activists, including the head of a news website, Hamid El Mahdaoui, according to local journalists.

An AFP cameraman said he saw two people being taken away by the security forces.

Seventy-two police officers were wounded from stones being thrown and 11 of the protesters were injured from the tear gas, Morocco’s MAP official news agency reported Al-Hoceima authorities as saying.

“All the injured have left hospital, with the exception of two officers who are in a serious condition,” the agency reported, adding that two police vehicles were torched by protesters.

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