Morocco says Islamists, leftists stirring protests

RABAT Mon May 23, 2011 11:55pm IST

A Moroccan riot policeman walks past a protester lying on the ground during a demonstration organized by the February 20 anti-government movement demanding political reforms, in Casablanca May 22, 2011. REUTERS/Stringer

A Moroccan riot policeman walks past a protester lying on the ground during a demonstration organized by the February 20 anti-government movement demanding political reforms, in Casablanca May 22, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Stringer

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RABAT (Reuters) - Islamists and extreme leftists are seeking to spread unrest in Morocco under the guise of democracy protests, the communications minister said on Monday after police reacted violently to banned nationwide demonstrations.

Khalid Naciri, who is also the government spokesman, spoke after riot police on Sunday wounded dozens of activists in the February 20 Movement who defied the ban in the capital Rabat and major cities such as Casablanca.

"They don't want democratic reform," he told Reuters. "Authorities had to deal with people who use the February 20 Movement to serve the agenda of three groups. Their goal is to kill democracy. The February 20 Movement needs to be cautious."

The violence appeared to signal a tougher government line against the protest movement, which has become more defiant after demonstrations started in February but has yet to attract mass public support.

The protests were in response to a call by the February 20 Movement, a loose youth-led network from various ideological backgrounds, mostly leftist and Islamist. Many are affiliated with authorised political parties.

Relying mostly on the Internet, the group is pressing King Mohammed to establish a parliamentary monarchy, enforce accountability and grant the judiciary full independence.

"Of 100 protests that took place in Morocco on Sunday, we have recorded problems in five cities: Rabat, Casablanca, Tangier, Fes and Oujda. All the others took place peacefully," Naciri said.

Naciri did not detail the problems, which he said were caused by members of the banned Islamist group Justice and Charity, the leftist Democratic Approach party and the Salafist Jihadi group, which has been subject of a government security crackdown since suicide attacks in Casablanca in 2003.

In response to the protests, the king announced in March that he would amend the constitution to allow greater democracy and more independence for the judiciary. A commission is due to announce a draft constitution next month.

(Reporting by Souhail Karam; Editing by Adam Tanner)

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