RABAT (Reuters) – Morocco’s King Mohammed VI has pardoned dozens of people arrested in recent protests in a northern region and blamed the failure of local officials to quickly implement development projects for stoking public anger.
It was his first public address since the start of protests in October over injustice, corruption and underdevelopment following the death of Mouhcine Fikri, a fishmonger crushed in a garbage truck retrieving stock confiscated by police.
Fikri’s death triggered widespread anger and protests in the Rif region around Al-Hoceima, the town where he worked. These were the largest demonstrations since the 2011 Arab Spring inspired rallies that prompted the king to make constitutional reforms giving up some of his power.
“If the King of Morocco is not convinced by the way political activity is conducted and if he does not trust a number of politicians, what are the citizens left with?” Mohammed VI said during a televised speech commemorating the 18th anniversary of his ascension to the throne.
“To all those concerned I say: ‘Enough is enough!’ Fear God in what you are perpetrating against your homeland. Either carry out your duties fully or withdraw from public life.”
Morocco’s government spokesperson did not respond to calls for comment on what actions may be taken, but one government official presented the speech as a “direct conversation with the people” over the slow progress in development projects.
“The king has put his foot down, whoever doesn’t do their work should leave their place for those who want to work,” the official told Reuters.
Just before the speech, the Ministry of Justice announced in a statement carried by MAP state news agency that 1,178 prisoners were being pardoned to mark the occasion. These included 58 members of the protest movement, dubbed Hirak al Chaabi in Arabic.
Silya Ziani, 23, was the only leader of the movement who was pardoned. The other primary leaders remain imprisoned in Casablanca, including Nasser Zefzafi.
“I am happy with my freedom, but I am waiting to hear the news of the freedom of all my comrades from the Hirak,” Ziani told local reporters upon her release late Saturday night.
For Taib Madmad, secretary general of the Moroccan Human Rights Association, the king’s speech and royal pardon are not enough to quell unrest.
“We can’t speak about significant developments because the main demands of Hirak remain unaddressed, including the release and dismal of charges for all the members of Hirak,” Madmad said.
During the king’s speech, Al Hoceima was mentioned only once, in a reference to praise the actions of security forces and their restraint.
Earlier this month, clashes ensued after police used tear gas and truncheons to disperse protests in Al Hoceima, causing one protester to fall into a coma. The victim is currently being treated at a military hospital in Rabat.
Editing by Patrick Markey/Keith Weir