Thousands march in Casablanca for political change

AFP and Ahram Online, Monday 26 Dec 2011

February 20 pro-democracy movement rallies thousands in Casablanca, minus Islamist Justice and Charity group, calling for a parliamentary monarchy and social justice

Moroccans take part in a demonstration organized by the February 20 Movement in Casablanca on December 25, (Photo: Reuters).

Several thousand people took to the streets of Casablanca Sunday to press for deeper political reforms, saying recent changes did not go far enough.

The protesters, mobilising on a call from the so-called February 20 pro-democracy movement, held their first demonstration without the Islamist Justice and Charity group.

The group withdrew from the February 20 movement earlier this month, claiming it had been the object of "attacks" from youths within the movement.

Up to 5,000 people demonstrated in Casablanca's poor Hay Mohammadi suburb, an AFP journalist witnessed, while police said about 3,500 people in total protested countrywide.

"We are here to to say that the fight will continue despite the withdrawal of political organisations, Islamic or otherwise," protester Hamza Mahfoud told AFP.

"Our demands are legitimate and they have not changed: a parliamentary monarchy and more social justice," said Mahfoud.

The Justice and Charity group withdrew from the February 20 movement due to what they saw as a limited set of demands, some of its members calling for a transformation of Morocco to a full-fledged republic rather than a parliamentary monarchy. 

About 300 to 500 people took part in a similar protest in Rabat.

Earlier this month, the February 20 movement said it was willing to talk with the newly elected Islamist head of government under conditions that included the release of political prisoners, a guarantee of press freedom and more individual liberties.

The Islamist Justice and Development Party (PJD) won elections in November which the protest movement boycotted.

Unlike the overthrow of governments in Tunisia and Egypt, Morocco's king nipped swelling protests in the bud by offering constitutional reforms that curbed his near absolute powers.

For the mostly young protesters who began to march in February giving the movement its name, the reforms were not enough, but the movement has lost some momentum since the elections.

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