Police disperse Morocco demo, several hurt



Rabat: Moroccan police broke up a gathering Sunday of about 100 reform activists to stop them from reaching an alleged secret detention and torture centre, leaving about 10 wounded, witnesses said.

The wounded, some from beatings, were taken to hospital in the capital, witnesses said, as the country's main rights group accused police of a heavy-handed response to a peaceful demonstration.

A large group of policemen with dozens of vans deployed early in the morning to areas where the protesters were to gather before moving to the Moroccan intelligence services' detention centre near the city.

The demonstrators had announced earlier in the week they planned a picnic protest outside the centre to highlight alleged torture and other human rights abuses of people held there, including Islamists suspected of terrorism.

The police action prevented them from reaching the centre and they moved instead to the headquarters of the Moroccan Association of Human Rights.

One bystander said he saw police hit a girl in the abdomen with a truncheon and another said an activist suffered wounds to the head and nose.

"We condemn this violent intervention," the human rights group president, Khadija Ryadi, said.

"It is illegal because it is a public place and the demonstration was peaceful. The state is afraid that this centre will be unveiled," she said.

The official Moroccan news agency MAP quoted local authorities as saying the gathering had not been authorised.

The general prosecutor of the Rabat appeals court planned to visit the intelligence service headquarters near the town of Temara outside Rabat as part of an investigation of the incident, it said.

And the national council of human rights, a body recently created by King Mohammed VI, said it would also conduct a similar probe at the intelligence headquarters.

Several NGOs, including Human Rights Watch (HRW) and Amnesty International, have alleged human rights violations are committed at the secret centre.

According to HRW, people suspected of terrorism, including Islamists, have been tortured there especially after the 2003 suicide attacks in Casablanca that left 44 dead including 13 suicide bombers.

Most of the demonstrators were from the February 20 Movement which is made up largely of youths and is inspired from the pro-democracy protests in the Arab world, taking its name form the date of its first demonstration in Morocco.

It has held several protests, prompting the king to announce in March plans for constitutional reforms. Members of the group were also among the main participants of another demonstration in Marrakesh Sunday to protest against terrorism and call for democratic reforms "as the best way to fight against violence".

This follows a bomb attack on April 28 at a popular tourist cafe that killed 17 people, including 13 foreigners.

Around 100 Islamists also tried to demonstrate in front of parliament in Rabat Sunday but were dispersed by police, witnesses said.

Bureau Report