RABAT, Morocco – Pro-government demonstrators in Morocco on Sunday attacked democracy activists protesting constitutional reforms recently unveiled by the king.
Hundreds of youths pledging their support to King Mohammed VI scattered the pro-reform demonstrations taking place in a lower-income neighborhood in Rabat, hunting them through the narrow streets.
After pro-democracy protests swept Morocco in February, the monarch unveiled a series of constitutional reforms Friday. Activists have said, however, they are insufficient and pledged to keep up their weekly demonstrations.
An hour before the February 20 protest was set to begin in the neighborhood of Taqqadum, the streets were filled with hundreds of young men riding in trucks accompanied by musicians calling for support for the king and his constitution.
When they encountered the democracy activists attempting to begin their own protest, they pelted them with stones and eggs and attacked them. They were later joined by youths from the neighborhood, some of whom hurled glass bottles at cars believed to contain activists.
"It is the same as the baltigiya of Egypt," said activist Zineb Belmkaddem, referring to the notorious government-hired thugs that would attack Egypt's pro-democracy demonstrators during the uprising there months ago.
"They threw eggs and rocks at her and tried to take off her pants," she said, describing the attack on a fellow colleague.
In some cases, the small numbers of police present attempted to shield the activists and a police van evacuated a group of them, but the attacks on protesters continued after they left the area.
At one point, hundreds of young men chanting "the people say yes to the constitution" could be seen chasing after a single activist through the narrow streets.
Reports by activists indicate that similar pro-government counter protests are taking place in other cities across the country.
While there is widespread dissatisfaction with the government and the economy in Morocco, the king remains popular and his announcement that he had transformed the country into a constitutional monarchy with the new reforms was widely welcomed.
The reforms, which will be put to a referendum on July 1, grant additional powers to the prime minister and the parliament and enshrine respect for human rights, gender equality and judicial independence into the constitution.
Activists, however, maintain that the reforms, which involved little consultation with the rest of society, are superficial and the king still retains his practically absolute powers.
In his speech Friday, the king urged the country to vote yes to the new constitution.
Paul Schemm reported from Paris.