Police disperse democracy demos in Morocco capital

Moroccan police on Sunday spent hours chasing hundreds of pro-democracy activists through the streets of the capital in an effort to prevent any pro-reform demonstrations from taking place.

Riot police armed with truncheons charged any attempts at protest gatherings, injuring some activists and hauling others off to waiting police trucks.

Morocco's February 20 movement, which is calling for political reform and greater democracy in the North African monarchy, says that the government appears to be implementing a new zero tolerance policy for protests.

Those who managed to assemble chanted "We want our rights, even if we are condemned to death," before fleeing down sidestreets in the face of charging policemen. Demonstrators also complained about the high cost of living and lack of jobs.

Dozens of members of the movement later attempted to regroup in front of parliament, but were again violently dispersed by police.

By sunset, activists had taken refuge inside the headquarters of the main labor union while a heavy police presence waited outside.

Activists also reported that police violently dispersed similar protest marches in the northern city of Tangiers and Agadir, in the south. Many were arrested and injured, but the movement did not have an official count.

Like many other countries in the Middle East and North Africa, Morocco has been swept by a new pro-democracy protest movement, largely made up of young people from across the political spectrum, inspired by the popular uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt.

While the movement in Morocco is not calling for abolishing the monarchy, it is for reducing its powers, strengthening the prime minister, reforming the judiciary and combatting the corruption they say is rife in the country.

On March 9, the king promised constitutional amendments to address many of these concerns and a handpicked committee is expected to present its recommendations in June.

As the committee deliberates, however, the government appears to have instituted a new zero tolerance policy for demonstrations, which previously had been allowed.

On May 15, an attempt to hold a rally outside the intelligence headquarters in a suburb of Rabat was violently dispersed, with at least one protest leader severely beaten.

An attempt on Friday to hold a protest over the expense of Rabat's prestigious Mawazine world music festival was also charged by police and dispersed.