Reuters | 28 January 2004
Police break up Morocco protest against trade deal.
RABAT, Jan 28 (Reuters) — Moroccan police armed with truncheons on Wednesday broke up a sit-in by protesters opposed to a free trade deal with the United States which they say could hurt the North African country’s most vulnerable people. One of the around 300 demonstrators at a parliament building in the capital Rabat lost consciousness after he was beaten by police who moved in to disperse the protest shortly after it began, witnesses said. Police and interior ministry officials were not immediately available for comment.
The U.S.-Moroccan Free Trade Agreement, still under negotiation, is expected to be signed in the next few months. Moroccan farmers have voiced fears that a flood of cheap American imports could undermine the agricultural sector which employs around half of the population. Pharmaceutical firms and health groups have said the deal would drive up drug costs for the majority of Moroccans. Cultural groups are concerned about the protection of Moroccan traditions. A spokesman for the country’s main independent human rights group AMDH said its chief, Abdelhamid Amine, lost consciousness for 15 minutes after being beaten by police. It was not immediately clear if police had authorized the protest. The spokesman said the protesters did not need prior permission as the sit-in did "not threaten public order". Morocco has already embarked on a 12-year gradual free trade accord with the European Union that will reach maturity in 2012.