Nearly 80 police officers were injured in two days of clashes with protesters in Morocco’s restive Rif region, an official said today, although the number of demonstrators hurt was unknown. Around 50 members of the security forces were hurt on Monday in the northern city of Al-Hoceima, most of them struck by stones, a high-ranking interior ministry official told AFP. Yesterday, 29 police officers were injured during new clashes in the neighbouring town of Imzouren, the same source said, adding that they were all later released from hospital. The Rif region has been rocked by unrest since a fishmonger was crushed to death in a rubbish truck in October as he tried to retrieve swordfish confiscated for being caught out of season.
In the eight months since then, demands for justice and anger over the region’s perceived marginalisation snowballed into a grassroots movement centred on Al-Hoceima. Clashes broke out in Al-Hoceima again on Monday, with activists saying police had blocked access to the city and violently dispersed any attempts to demonstrate. Videos shared on social media showed the police dispersing the protesters using truncheons, leaving some of them bloodied and apparently unconscious on the ground.
Authorities later denounced “groups of individuals, including some in hooded sweaters, who provoked and stoned the police.” Khadija Ryadi of the Moroccan Association for Human Rights (AMDH) said about 150 people were arrested during the violence, based on her group’s sources. “Forty were still detained this morning, many of them from neighbouring communities who were arrested when they came to demonstrate,” said Ryadi. “Residents no longer gather in a single neighbourhood to demonstrate,” she said.
“They now protest in several neighbourhoods at the same time, and the police intervene immediately, sometimes using tear gas despite the presence of women and children.” The situation was calm yesterday in Al-Hoceima, where protesters marched through streets banging pots. Security forces have arrested more than 100 people including protest leader Nasser Zefzafi, who heads the Al- Hirak al-Shaabi, or “Popular Movement”, demanding jobs, development and an end to corruption.
The Rif has long had a tense relationship with central authorities in Rabat, and it was at the heart of the Arab Spring-inspired protests in Morocco in February 2011. The government has responded to the unrest by relaunching a 2015 programme to improve the region’s infrastructure, health facilities and education services by 2019. Protesters have still been taking to the streets, however, and are demanding the release of the Hirak activists.