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Stick approach: Police break up free trade demo in Morocco

Middle East Online | 2004-01-29

Stick approach: Police break up free trade demo in Morocco

Witnesses say police used batons to break up 200 people protesting in Rabat against US-Morocco free trade deal.

RABAT — Moroccan police on Wednesday broke up a demonstration by some 200 people protesting against the country’s planned free trade agreement with the United States, with some protesters accusing the security forces of being heavy-handed.

The demonstrators, including intellectuals and human rights activists, had gathered outside Parliament despite being told their protest had not been authorised.

According to demonstrators, police moved in and violently broke up the gathering using batons.

Among those caught up in the incident was Abdelhamid Amine, head of the Moroccan Association for Human Rights.

"Policemen hit him on the back and on the head," said Abdelilah Benabdeslam, who was with Amine at the time.

"They hit him to please the Americans," he added while helping Amine to get back on his feet.

Other witnesses said film-maker Nabil Ayouch was also struck.

A police spokesman said the protest was peacefully dispersed but that scuffles had broken out among the protesters, some of whom had fallen to the ground.

The protest, called by a trade union, was against the planned US-Morocco free trade agreement, with those taking part denouncing clauses which they said threatened cultural diversity and access to health care in the kingdom.

The accord, still being negotiated, is expected to be signed in April or May.

It has upset some professions here, notably the textile, culture and health industries.