Thousands of protesters filled the streets of Morocco’s capital Rabat early on Sunday for a demonstration in solidarity with weeks of protests in the country’s northern Rif region.
Marchers chanted “free the prisoners!” as they called for the release of scores of Rif demonstrators detained by the authorities.
Police have arrested dozens during the ‘Popular Movement’ (al-Hirak al-Shaabi) protests over the last month in al-Hoceima and surrounding towns.
Among those arrested was the movement’s leader, Naser Zefzafi who was accused of “threatening national security”. He sparked the most recent wave of protests in Rif after interrupting a preacher's Friday sermon to accuse him of lies, and of serving those in power rather than God.
Demonstrations against corruption and unemployment in the area first began following the death of a Moroccan fish vendor in Rif last October. Mouhcine Fikri was crushed by a garbage truck while trying to save his stock of swordfish which had been destroyed by the police.
Moroccans from the predominantly Berber Rif region have felt neglected and marginalized by the government in Rabat, and have used the demonstrations to call for political and social reform. The brutal police response to their protests has done little to alleviate this popular discontent.
Estimates of protester numbers at the weekend demo in the capital range anywhere from 12,000 - according to the interior ministry - to a million - according to the country’s most popular Islamist group, Al-Adl Wal Ihsane, which was involved in organizing the event.
Morocco, Rabat today. An estimated 100,000 people took the streets in solidarity with the protests in the Rif. pic.twitter.com/Y1D4pT42Cp— انيسة (@2_Anissa) June 11, 2017
The Rabat protest also called out corruption and abuses of power by the authorities, with one protester telling AP that "we are here for dignity, equality, social justice."
Sunday's march on the capital came after four more Rif activists were arrested over the weekend.