Marrakesh: Thousands of protesters marched in Morocco on Sunday demanding reform in the Arab world`s longest-serving dynasty and opposing militant violence after a deadly bomb attack.
The rallies in Marrakesh and Casablanca were the latest in a series organised by the February 20 youth movement and presented a challenge to the government of King Mohammed, wary the protests could build into an Egypt-style revolt.
In Marrakesh, marchers passed a cafe where 17 people, including eight French nationals, died in a bomb attack on April 28. Authorities last week arrested three suspects and said the ringleader was loyal to al-Qaeda.
The group`s north African wing, Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, said on Saturday it was not responsible for the bombing, the first such attack since 2003.
A government official said up to 3,000 people marched in Marrakesh while other independent reports estimated the turnout at around 8,000.
"I took part in every protest and this one is by far the biggest," said Zakaria Lemdaoui, 18, in Marrakesh.
Protesters held signs marked with the slogans "We are for freedom and security" and "We oppose terrorism and intimidation”. Other banners attacked corruption.
Up to 40 chanting protesters, many with their faces masked, called for the downfall of the government and monarchy. Most Moroccans support the monarchy.
"We want this regime with all its institutions to be brought down. We need a constituent assembly to pave the way for real elections and a regime that draws its legitimacy from the people," one marcher said, declining to give his name.
The uniformed security presence at the rally was light with security forces parked on side streets, but plain-clothes officers could be seen taking notes and speaking into cell phones, a witness said.
Witnesses said around 8,000 people took part in an evening march through the old town in the country`s biggest city, Casablanca.
Some marchers called on the King to dismiss two close allies -- Fouad Ali Himma, the founder of what has quickly become Morocco`s largest opposition party, and Mohamed Mounir Majidi, the King`s private secretary.
Protests in Tunisia that toppled veteran leader Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali gathered momentum when trade unions put their weight behind them but Moroccan unions did not join Sunday`s marches.
The government announced in April it would increase public sector salaries and raise the minimum wage in the latest of a series of handouts aimed at preventing any spill over from revolt in other Arab countries.
It also appointed a committee to reform the constitution in order to cede more powers, promised to make justice independent and freed some political prisoners.