Morocco arrests leader of Rif protest movement

Authorities in Morocco on Monday arrested the fugitive leader of a protest movement that has shaken the country’s northern Rif region for months.

Nasser Zefzafi was arrested after a warrant was issued against him for allegedly interrupting a Friday prayer sermon at a mosque in the northern coastal city of Al-Hoceima and calling for further demonstrations, officials said.

The prosecutor of Al-Hoceima said Zefzafi was detained “along with other individuals” and transferred to Casablanca, without providing further details of the arrests.

Prosecutors said the arrest was ordered after Zefzafi “obstructed, in the company of a group of individuals, freedom of worship” at the mosque in Al-Hoceima.

He faces between six months and three years in prison on charges of insulting the Imam, making provocative speeches and sowing disturbances.

Supporters had poured into the streets throughout the weekend, protesting against attempts to detain him.

Hundreds of mainly young demonstrators gathered in two neighbourhoods of the city again on Sunday night chanting “The state is corrupt” and “We are all Zefzafi”, according to AFP news agency.

READ MORE: Morocco police hunt Rif region protest leader

The protesters attempted to make their way to the city’s central square but were blocked by security forces. After an hour-long face-off with police, the youths disappeared without incident.

“We cannot take a single step, the police are everywhere,” an activist told AFP news agency on condition of anonymity.

As of late Sunday, police had arrested 22 people in connection with the disturbances in Al-Hoceima, officials said.

Authorities have accused protesters of receiving money and other support from abroad “to carry out propaganda activities”.

Morocco’s northern Rif region has been shaken by social unrest since the death of a fishmonger in October, who was crushed inside a garbage truck while trying to relieve his fish confiscated by the police.

His death evolved into a grassroots movement demanding jobs and economic development with Zefzafi emerging as the leader of the Al-Hirak al-Shaabi or “Popular Movement”, based largely in the coastal city of Al-Hoceima.

Last week, Interior Minister Abdelouafi Laftit led a large government delegation to Al-Hoceima.

Officials have promised increased support for the local economy, in particular the crucial fishing industry.

What’s behind Morocco’s street protests? – Inside Story

Source: AFP news agency