Moroccan anti-riot police broke up a series of week-end protests, drawing international criticism. The European Commission on Monday (May 30th) expressed concern at “the violence used during the demonstrations”.
“We call for restraint in the use of force and respect of fundamental freedoms. Freedom of assembly is a democratic right,” spokesperson Natasha Butler said. “We call on Morocco to maintain its track record in allowing citizens to demonstrate peacefully.”
The Sunday demonstrations, organised by the youth-led February 20 Movement, took place in 40 cities and left dozens wounded in Casablanca and Tangier.
In Casablanca, protestors planned to gather at the Idris El Harti Street in the Sbata neighbourhood, but were prevented by security servicemen. Police on motorcycles chased with the demonstrators through the nearby alleys.
According to protestor Hatem El-Kouhen, the February 20 Movement is “intent on the peaceful nature of protests”.
“During more than 15 demonstrations we have organised in Casablanca so far since the launch of the movement last February 20th, there have been no transgressions, acts of destruction or violence by demonstrators,” he said. “So I do not understand this violent intervention of the security forces against us.”
The movement held a meeting last Friday in Casablanca where they decided to resume demonstrating in the Sbata neighbourhood after police broke up the May 22nd protest. They emphasised the need to avoid violence and any confrontations with security servicemen. The protestors chanted slogan “Peaceful, peaceful. No stones, no knives.”
Journalist Mounir Ketawi was among the dozens wounded even though he was wearing a yellow vest with a “press” sign.
“Three security men intentionally assaulted me on the behest of their boss, who ordered them to beat me without leaving a mark,” he said. “They beat me with fists at the abdomen and chest level. Then one of them gave me a powerful punch in my face, breaking my glasses. I fell into semi-consciousness and was thereafter taken to the hospital.”
The journalist added that he reserves the right to press charges against the police officers, who assaulted him while he was performing his job.
A similar scenario occurred in Tangier, where policemen occupied the Beni Makada square, which the February 20 Movement came to call the “Tagheer Square” (“Square of Change”). The demonstrators assembled in nearby neighbourhoods in the afternoon, but were dispersed by security forces, who chased the protestors through the narrow alleys of the city.
Violent clashes also broke out in some parts of Tangier, with demonstrators hurling stones and empty bottles. There were victims on both sides. The confrontations continued till midnight. In other cities, the protests passed without use of violence.