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Thousands rally in Morocco to demand protest leader's release

Zefzafi has emerged as the head of the al-Hirak al-Shaabi [Getty]

Date of publication: 1 June, 2017

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Thousands of Moroccans held rallies for a sixth straight night, demanding that authorities release the leader of a political grassroots movement.

Thousands of people held demonstrations in Morocco for the sixth night running on Wednesday, demanding that authorities release the leader of a political grassroots movement.

Protesters in the city of al-Hoceima in the long neglected Rif region have called for the release of Nasser Zefzafi, who was arrested on Monday after three days on the run.

Zefzafi, who has emerged as the head of the al-Hirak al-Shaabi or "Popular Movement", has been charged with "obstructing the freedom of worship" after he allegedly held a protest in a local mosque.

Zefzafi has been accused of leading a protest during Friday prayers against an Imam, who had called protesters "rabble-rousers".

Sources told The New Arab that over 60 lawyers will be defending Zefzafi and other protesters arrested in a government crackdown against the popular movement.

The northern Rif area has been shaken by social unrest since the death of a fishmonger  in October who was crushed in a rubbish truck as he protested against the seizure of swordfish caught out of season.

A photo of Mouhcine Fikri, 31, was circulated on social media, showing him dead, his head and his arm surpassing the compacting mechanism.

Initial protests in the fishing port of al-Hoceima triggered a wider movement demanding more development and railing against corruption, repression and unemployment.

On Wednesday, around 2,000 protesters once again took to the streets of the city shouting slogans such as "We are all Nasser Zefzafi" and "corrupt state".

Anti-riot police were at the protest, following clashes between demonstrators and security forces over the weekend, but the crowd dispersed at around midnight without incident.

The mainly ethnically Berber Rif region has long had a tense relationship with Morocco's central authorities, and was at the heart of Arab Spring-inspired protests in 2011.

The ruling Islamist Justice and Development Party (PJD) has issued a joint statement warning of a "serious situation" and criticising the state's response.

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