Category: Morocco


Turnout key as Moroccans vote on king’s reforms

Thousands of people gather as they take part in a rally to support the government's project for constitutional reform during a peaceful protest in Casablancahttp://news.yahoo.com/turnout-key-moroccans-vote-kings-reforms-091824853.html

RABAT (Reuters) – Moroccans voted on Friday in a referendum on a revised constitution offered by King Mohammed to placate “Arab Spring” street protesters and the “yes” camp was tipped to win despite boycott calls by opponents.

The new charter explicitly grants the government executive powers, but retains the king at the helm of the army, religious authorities and the judiciary and still allows him to dissolve parliament, though not unilaterally as is the case now.

That falls far short of the demands of the “February 20” protest movement, which wants a parliamentary monarchy where the king’s powers would be kept in check by elected lawmakers.

However the movement so far has not attracted the mass support of popular uprisings that toppled the leaders of Tunisia and Egypt. It urged Moroccans to boycott the vote and said a low turnout would back their calls for more radical reforms.

Turnout stood at 26 percent by midday local time (1100 GMT), according to the interior ministry. Preliminary results were due to be announced late on Friday, a ministry spokesman said.

“I voted ‘yes’ because we have to obey the Commander of the Faithful,” retired agriculture ministry engineer Samira Denguir said in the middle-class Hassan suburb of the capital Rabat, referring to the king’s religious role.

“A large ‘yes’ vote with a high abstention rate or spoiled ballots is not a great result, and the monarchy, Makhzen and (political) parties know it,” said Lise Storm, senior lecturer in Middle East politics at the University of Exeter in England.

The Makhzen is the royal court seen by many Moroccans as a largely unaccountable and shadowy political and business elite.

The 47-year-old ruler has had some success in repairing the legacy of human right abuses, high illiteracy and poverty he inherited after his late father’s 38-year rule ended in 1999.

WESTERN ALLY

A staunch Western ally, Morocco under King Mohammed has stepped up cooperation against terrorism and illegal migration, notably with the European Union which is keen to avoid the spread of Islamic militancy along its southern shores.

But while his personal popularity is expected to swing many voters in favor of the reforms, the margin of victory could be eroded by resentment at wide disparities between rich and poor, and a sense of alienation from the political elite.

“I’m not voting because I couldn’t get my voter card and to be totally honest I couldn’t care less. If they really mean good they would have done it years ago,” said market trader Younes Driouki, 29, heading to the beach with his surfboard.

Results of an online poll conducted by independent portal Lakome.com showed 52 percent of 51,200 participants saying they would boycott the referendum. The vast bulk of the rest said they would vote in favor, but such a low turnout would raise questions about the credibility of the exercise.

Some 13 million people registered to vote — more than 6 million fewer than the 19.4 million Moroccans over 19 years old in a 2009 census. Moroccans above 18 are eligible to vote.

Hamid Benchrifa, an analyst from the Social Development Agency, said the disparity may be due either to voters not updating their identity cards after changing address, or a simple lack of interest in politics.

The February 20 movement has brought together Islamists bent on setting up an Islamic caliphate and secular left-wingers focusing on what they see as rising levels of corruption.

They say they will continue their common fight for a system of parliamentary monarchy and more curbs on the king’s powers.

(Editing by Mark John and Mark Heinrich)

Moroccan King Mohammed VI (R) heads a cabinet meeting at the Royal Palace in Rabat. The king outlined curbs to his wide political powers in proposed constitutional reforms and pledged to build a constitutional monarchy with a democratic parliament

 

VIDEO Residents of Rabat dance in the streets after Moroccan King Mohammed VI outlines curbs to his wide political powers in proposed constitutional reforms.http://beta.news.yahoo.com/moroccos-king-unveils-reforms-curbs-own-power-025217779.html

Moroccan King Mohammed VI outlined curbs to his wide political powers in proposed constitutional reforms and pledged to build a constitutional monarchy with a democratic parliament.

The proposals will be put to a referendum on July 1, the king said. They devolve many of the king’s powers to the prime minister and parliament.

The proposals come in the wake of nationwide pro-reform demonstrations that started in February, inspired by other popular uprisings sweeping the Arab world.

The 47-year-old monarch, who in 1999 took over the Arab world’s longest-serving dynasty, holds virtually all power in the Muslim north African country, and he is also its top religious authority as the Commander of the Faithful.

In future the head of government should come “from the ranks of the political party which comes out top in parliamentary elections,” the king said in a keenly-awaited televised address.

It would mean a “government emerging through direct universal suffrage,” he said.

The prime minister, now to be called the “president of the government” will have the “power to dissolve parliament,” which was hitherto the monarch’s prerogative, the king said.

King Mohammed VI also pledged an independent judiciary and said the proposals would “consolidate the pillars of a constitutional monarchy.”

The king has until now headed the council that has appointed the country’s judges.

Under the proposals, drawn up by a reform panel appointed by Mohammed VI in March, the prime minister will be able to appoint government officials, including in the public administration and state enterprises, taking over an authority previously held only by the king.

The prime minister will also be able to debate general state policy with a government council at weekly meetings to be held in the absence of the king, according to the draft proposals seen earlier by AFP.

Under the current constitution, only the cabinet chaired by the monarch can decide on state policy.

Among the new competencies of the parliament would be declaring a general amnesty, also currently only the king’s domain.

The reference to the king in the constitution as “sacred” would be replaced by the expression: “The integrity of the person of the king should not be violated.”

This is an important change because the word “sacred” has a strong religious connotation, especially in Arabic, analyst Mohamed Darif said.

“The new formula does not try to put a religious dimension to the person of the king but rather highlights political responsibilities,” he said.

Mohammed VI would still hold the title of Commander of the Faithful, which makes him the country’s only religious authority, and remain the head of the military forces and nominate ambassadors and diplomats.

The proposals also provide for indigenous Berber (amazigh) to be considered an official language alongside Arabic in the preamble of the new draft constitution.

A large section of Morocco’s 32 million people use one of the three dialects of the language.

The reforms are expected to transform the kingdom’s political system into a constitutional monarchy, as demanded by the February 20 Movement named after the date of its first nationwide pro-reform protests.

The youth-led group has brought thousands of people onto the streets in unprecedented calls for change, on the back of uprisings that toppled the autocratic rulers of Tunisia and Egypt in January and February.

 

Bomb attack in Morocco tourist cafe kills 15

Investigators work at the site of a blast at a cafe in Marrakeshhttp://news.yahoo.com/s/nm/20110428/wl_nm/us_morocco_blast

By Youssef Boudlal Youssef Boudlal Thu Apr 28, 3:42 pm ET

MARRAKESH (Reuters) – A bomb killed 15 people including 10 foreigners in Morocco’s bustling tourist destination of Marrakesh, state television said on Thursday, in an attack that bore the hallmark of Islamist militants.

The blast ripped through a cafe overlooking Marrakesh’s Jamaa el-Fnaa square, a spot that is often packed with foreign tourists. A Reuters photographer said he saw rescuers pulling dismembered bodies from the wreckage.

State-run 2M television said the 15 dead comprised six French nationals, five Moroccans and four foreigners whose nationality it did not give.

“Analysis of the early evidence collected at the site of the blast that occurred on Thursday at a cafe in Marrakesh confirms the theory of an attack,” the Interior Ministry said in a statement carried by the official MAP news agency.

Two residents in Marrakesh who were near the square told Reuters the explosion was carried out by a suicide bomber, but there was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack.

If confirmed as the work of Islamist militants, the attack would be the first such major attack in Morocco since 2003, when suicide bombings in the commercial capital, Casablanca, killed more than 45 people.

Morocco’s ruler, King Mohammed, has promised to reform the constitution to placate protesters who have been inspired by uprisings in other part of the Arab world. But a fresh round of protests is planned for this Sunday.

The latest blast is likely to hurt Morocco’s tourism trade — a major source of revenue — which is already struggling to recover from the effects of the global downturn.

A doctor at a Marrakesh hospital said at least one of those killed was a French citizen, and that some of those injured had lost limbs in the blast.

“I heard a massive blast. The first and second floors of the building were destroyed,” said one local woman, who did not want to be identified. “Some witnesses said they have seen a man carrying a bag entering the cafe before the blast occurred.”

The cafe is in the Marrakesh medina, or old city, which is designated by the United Nation’s cultural arm as a World Heritage Site. It is usually packed with stalls, story-tellers and snake-charmers seeking to attract tourists.

“You can’t find a more emblematic target than Jamaa el-Fnaa square,” said a Frenchman who owns a restaurant in the city.

“With this attack and amid the worrying unrest in the region, tourism will hit the doldrums for some time,” said the businessman, who did not want his name published.

The roof over the cafe’s upstairs terrace was ripped off by the force of the explosion and pieces of plaster and electrical wires hung from the ceiling.

The body of one of the victims lay amid the rubble, covered by a blanket, with one hand sticking out. Blood stained the floor of the cafe red in several places.

“I heard a very loud blast in the square. It occurred inside Argana cafe. When I approached the scene, I saw shredded bodies being pulled out of the cafe,” the Reuters photographer said.

“The first floor bore the brunt of the damage while the ground floor was almost intact … There are a lot of police who, with forensics, are sifting through the debris.”

LIMBS LOST

Halim Saidi, a doctor at Marrakesh’s Ibn Tofail Hospital, said one French national died before reaching the hospital and second foreigner died while undergoing treatment.

He said 18 of the wounded had been brought to his hospital, including eight Moroccans, seven French and two Swiss citizens.

“Five of the wounded foreigners are in serious condition. They have lost limbs because of the explosion, endured serious injuries to the abdomen or suffered major fractures.

The eight Moroccan nationals suffered “relatively minor injuries,” he said.

The main stock market, the Casablanca bourse, fell more than three percent on news of the blast but recovered to close down 1.6 percent.

“People are panicking. This is a terrorist act and it will affect the economy and tarnish the country’s image,” said a trader on the exchange.

King Mohammed ordered a speedy investigation into what he described as a “criminal explosion,” MAP reported. An official source had earlier told Reuters it appeared the blast was caused by gas canisters in the cafe catching fire.

Security experts said the attack was in line with Islamist militants’ previous attempts — most of them disrupted by security services — to undermine Morocco’s rulers by targeting the tourism industry.

“The majority of plots are detected in their early stages because Moroccan authorities retain a very effective network of informants right down to street level,” said Anna Murison of Exclusive Analysis, a consultancy.

“However, the regular recurrence of plots …. mean it is likely that a few will slip through the net,” she said.

Last week, men claiming to be Moroccan members of al Qaeda’s north African wing appeared in a video posted on YouTube threatening to attack Moroccan interests.

A masked speaker, who identified himself as Abu Abdulrahman, said the planned attacks were to avenge the detention of Islamists by Moroccan authorities.

(Additional reporting by Souhail Karam and Zakia Abdennebi in Rabat, Catherine Bremer in Paris and William Maclean in Bradford, England; Writing by Christian Lowe; Editing by Jon Boyle)

Moroccan unions win wage hikes as protests grow

RABAT (Reuters) – Morocco has agreed to raise public sector salaries in a handout estimated at more than $5 billion over three years as demands for reform put pressure on the Arab world’s longest-serving dynasty.

State television channel RTM said on Tuesday Prime Minister Abbas Al Fassi had signed a draft memo with unions over the wage deal as well as an increase in the overall minimum wage.

It is the latest in a series of handouts as King Mohammed’s government tries to prevent a spillover of popular revolt from other north African countries. Thousands of Moroccans marched peacefully on Sunday to demand reforms.

“This is quite generous,” said Mustapha Khalfi, editor of Attajdid newspaper, mouthpiece of the main opposition party, which is linked to a union that took part in the talks.

He estimated the total government cost at 43 billion dirhams ($5.4 billion) over three years and said it would be financed in part by a reduction of 10 percent in spending by all government ministries and some other state bodies.

State television said public sector employees would get a net 600 dirhams ($80) per month increase as of May 1. The minimum pension for public and private sector pensioners would go up almost 70 percent to 1,000 dirhams per month.

The minimum wage for private sector employees would be raised by 10 percent from July and 5 percent at the start of 2012, it added. The current minimum wage is 2,110 dirhams.

Finance ministry officials could not be reached for comment on the potential cost of the package.

State television also quoted Agriculture Minister Aziz Akhennouch as saying the debt of 100,000 farmers would be lowered and rescheduled.

Agriculture is the top employer in the country of more than 32 million.

SUBSIDIES

Morocco, which unlike other Arab monarchies has no oil and natural gas of its own, almost doubled funds allocated to subsidies in February to counter an increase in global commodities prices and rising food costs.

The government has also promised jobs in the public sector for 4,300 graduates and higher wages and benefits to its 47,000-strong auxiliary forces, used to tame protests and fight riots.

Khalfi said the latest handout would not end demands for change. His paper speaks for the main Justice and Development opposition party, a moderate Islamist entity affiliated to a union which was part of the wage talks.

“People’s expectations, like anywhere else in the Arab world, are very high and the majority is silent and watching how far the government will give. But there are pockets of resistance to serious change,” Khalfi said.

The youth-led February 20 Movement has been putting King Mohammed and his government under pressure to reform a political system that critics say puts too much power in the hands of the royal court at the expense of elected officials.

On Sunday, thousands responded to the group’s call for a third day of peaceful protests in three months.

Analysts had been expecting the government to speed up an agreement with the unions ahead of Labour Day, May 1, when the February 20 Movement has said it will join trade unions in their marches.

“The number of those taking part in the protests organized by the movement is not declining,” said political analyst Ahmed el-Bouz. “What is interesting is that protests by the movement are attracting people with social and even individual grievances.”

The Alaouite dynasty has ruled Morocco for 350 years.

(Editing by Matthew Tostevin)

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