Scores of Moroccan demonstrators and policemen were wounded and government offices set ablaze last week in Safi during clashes over poor economic conditions.
The events began when about 100 job seekers staged a sit-in Monday (August 1st) on the railway that links the phosphate mines and chemical factories with the port. The protestors, who were demanding jobs at Office Chérifien des Phosphates (OCP), barricaded the tracks to block train traffic.
When security forces intervened to end the sit-in, demonstrators moved their protest to residential neighbourhoods in the mid-town area. Clashes with security forces continued into the night.
About 20 protestors were arrested in connection with the violence, charged with inciting riots and burning public facilities. An interior ministry office and a police commission were among the buildings damaged during the unrest.
On Monday afternoon, people attacked an interior ministry administrative facility in the al-Qalia neighbourhood. Protestors removed all chairs, tables, papers, and computers from the building and set them ablaze out on the street. Another group allegedly tried to burn down a police facility in the Koki neighbourhood.
While authorities blamed protestors for the destruction, others claimed government forces were behind the vandalism.
Last Wednesday, the Moroccan Association of Human Rights (AMDH) local chapter claimed that security authorities hired individuals to burn the administrative buildings, in an attempt to justify their violent crackdown on protestors and the arrest of the members of Co-ordination of Unemployed People.
Later the same day, Morocco’s’ National Police Service (DGSN) rushed to release a statement denying any involvement in the fires and calling for an investigation of the AMDH allegations.
Authorities later arrested Abdel Ghani Eweina, head of the local chapter of AMDH. He was released late in the evening of August 3rd after being questioned regarding his group’s allegations.
Moroccan government spokesperson and Communication Minister Khalid Naciri described the Safi events as deviations, adding that “they are serious and have nothing at all to do with the democratic expression of opinion”.
Naciri accused unnamed entities of “consciously manipulating” the legitimate demands of unemployed people “for purposes and goals that have nothing to do with democracy, reform or interests of citizens”. The government spokesman went on to call for the public to support the authorities in enforcing the law.
Safi has been the scene of protest violence before. Monday’s protest occurred less than a week after the National Human Rights Council completed its report on the circumstances of death of Kamal Amari, an activist from the February 20th Movement. Amari died after being injured during a demonstration in Safi on June 29th.
However, the council refused to disclose the details of the report, saying it was sent to the interior and justice ministries. The report included the investigators’ conclusions about Amari’s death, together with recommendations for necessary actions.
The public prosecutor in Safi previously said in a statement that Amari died because of a chest disease. But his family and the February 20th Movement maintain that he died after being beaten by police.