|Many protesters were also arrested following Sunday’s protests [Reuters]|
Police in Morocco have violently dispersed protesters who defied a ban on demonstrations, beating them up with batons and taking several into custody.
Sunday’s police action in the capital, Rabat, and Casablanca seemed to suggest a tougher government response to the increasingly defiant protests that first erupted in February.
“Protest is a legal right, why is the Makhzen afraid?” crowds in Casablanca chanted, referring to the royal court. “Makhzen get out. Down with despotism.”
A Reuters correspondent saw seven riot police attacking one bearded man in his 30s, repeatedly hitting his head and body, causing severe bleeding.
“We have been called here to preserve order because of this unauthorised protest,” said a senior police officer on the scene who declined to give his name.
Protesters wanted to camp in front of the parliament in Rabat, but authorities were anxious to avoid a repeat of the events in Cairo earlier this year when protesters occupying the Egyptian capital’s Tahrir Square eventually helped topple the government.
‘Together for dignity’
In both the Rabat and Casablanca, police armed with batons and shields moved people off the streets wherever they gathered. Protesters broke off into smaller groups, often with police chasing behind.
Demonstrators said police beat dozens in Casablanca.
“We are standing together for dignity,” one protest leaflet said. “We are against despotism, against corruption. We are for dignity, freedom, democracy and social justice.”
Long seen as a relatively moderate and stable state, Morocco has experienced increasing unrest this year inspired by successful uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt.
In recent months, protesters seeking more democratic rights and economic benefits have held several nationwide protests in the country of 32 million, resulting in at least six deaths.
The royal family has ruled Morocco since the 17th century and survived both French colonial rule and independence.
Morocco has the lowest per capita GDP in the Maghreb region that also includes Libya, Tunisia, and Algeria. Many live in poverty and nearly half of the population is illiterate.
In response to the public protests, the king announced in March that he would amend the constitution to allow more democratic rights. A commission is due to announce its draft constitution next month.