Morocco's Protests Take A Peaceful Turn Demonstrations are under way in Morocco, called by a coalition of youth groups, labor unions and human rights organizations and demanding a new constitution that would bring greater democracy in the North African kingdom.
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Morocco's Protests Take A Peaceful Turn

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Morocco's Protests Take A Peaceful Turn

Morocco's Protests Take A Peaceful Turn

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LIANE HANSEN, host:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Liane Hansen.

In many parts of the Arab world, today is another day of protest and violence.

In Libya security forces reportedly have opened fire on mourners at a funeral procession for anti-government protesters killed earlier. More about the situation there in a moment.

In Yemen demonstrators are in the streets for an 11th straight day.

And in Bahrain, demonstrators have returned to a square in the country's capital.

Now to Morocco, where demonstrations are underway at this hour. They were called by a coalition of youth groups, labor unions and human rights organizations.

NPR's Tom Gjelten is with protesters in the capital of Rabat. Tom, exactly where are you and tell us what's happening.

TOM GJELTEN: Hi, Liane. Well, I'm here in Rabat just about a block right now from the parliament building. Demonstrators started out this morning in front of a very old market, have been marching through the streets around to the parliament building. It's a fairly good-size crowd - not huge - probably seven or eight thousand people.

You know, Liane, unlike Egypt and some other Arab countries, Morocco is not really focused on a single city, so there are actually demonstrations in several cities all across the country today. Rabat is just one.

HANSEN: Are you hearing anything about the demonstrations in the other cities?

GJELTEN: Yes. There was some trouble in Tangiers yesterday and some small incident in Fez, another important Morocco city. But mostly what I'm hearing is relatively small peaceful demonstrations in all these cities.

HANSEN: These demonstrations are happening more than a month after the ones in Tunisia and Egypt. Do you know why things developed more slowly in Morocco?

GJELTEN: Basically, Liane, it's because the organizers felt that more time was needed actually to prepare the people for these demonstrations. They've actually been planned for several weeks. They created this movement that you referred to called the February 20 Movement specifically to prepare for these demonstrations on this day. You know, some of the ratings companies that assess the political stability of Middle Eastern kingdoms say that Morocco is among the least likely to be overthrown.

There is deep discontent here; there's a long history of opposition, but the opposition movement is very disorganized, not cohesive. The people organizing these demonstrations felt that a lot of work was needed in order to get ready for this day.

HANSEN: So, what unites the groups in this coalition?

GJELTEN: Liane, basically they're all focused on the monarchy. King Mohammed VI, the ruler here, is actually personally quite popular but there's a lot of grievances against what they see as his abuse of his royal power, feelings about corruption. He's not only an important political figure; he's also the leading economic figure - a lot of companies closely tied to him - concerns about corruption.

The Islamic groups also resent that he considers himself the - one of his titles is the Commander of the Faithful. He's considered officially the guardian of Islam and the Islamic groups feel that he's not really justified in claiming that. So, a lot of focus is on the monarchy, and the goal of all these demonstrations is to move more toward a constitutional system, a constitutional monarchy.

HANSEN: And from what you can tell, is it a peaceful demonstration?

GJELTEN: Yes. Entirely peaceful so far, Liane. I have seen some policemen but they're mostly staying in their vans. They actually seem to be sleeping on the job. Very small police presence on the street. No counterdemonstrations. Really quite positive and peaceful so far.

HANSEN: NPR's Tom Gjelten in Rabat, Morocco. Tom, thank you very much.

GJELTEN: Thank you, Liane.

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