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MOROCCO: Rioting breaks out ahead of Sunday pro-reform protest

February 19, 2011 | 10:42 am

What began as a protest against foreign control of Moroccan public services Saturday escalated into anti-government rioting that could presage volatile gatherings Sunday in a planned nationwide day of protest in demand of reform. reported that a small group in Tangier protesting utility contracts recently awarded to a French firm swelled to include hundreds who had to be contained by anti-riot police. The agency posted pictures on its website showing a vandalized car and smashed windows at the local office of French firm Veolia and the bank branch of Societe Generale.

No shots were fired and the demonstrators, complaining of inflated utility bills for services provided by foreign contractors, were dispersed without tear gas or force, the agency reported.

A coalition of Moroccan youth groups calling themselves the February 20 Movement has called for mass, peaceful demonstrations in the cities of Rabat, Casablanca and Tangier on Sunday to demand constitutional amendments to modernize the monarchy, resignation of the government and parliament, and recognition of the Berber language as official alongside Arabic.

The demonstration has won the support of former palace spokesman Hassan Aourid, a sign the royal family that has ruled for 350 years may be willing to cede key governing powers and continue to reign as figureheads as in Britain, Spain and other European countries.

The youthful activists of the February 20 Movement say they don't want to overthrow the monarchy, rather to gain its support for realignment of power in the kingdom.

-- Carol J. Williams