Rabat - Head of Government, Saad Eddine El Othmani, made a television appearance on Saturday night to discuss the ongoing stalemate in the city of Al Hoceima and its nearby towns in the Rif region, home to eight-month long protests, where the situation remains tense.
Rabat – Head of Government, Saad Eddine El Othmani, made a television appearance on Saturday night to discuss the ongoing stalemate in the city of Al Hoceima and its nearby towns in the Rif region, home to eight-month long protests, where the situation remains tense.
In a special interview with first and second Moroccan TV state channels, El Othmani said that the protests have been largely peaceful, admitting, however, that several protesters were injured during police interventions.
Still, he pointed out, security officers were also injured during clashes with protesters, adding that the National Council for Human Rights (CNDH) is investigating the incidents.
“We should salute security officers for their job. They work in hard conditions, taking their iftar meals during Ramadan in their vehicles and sleeping in tents away from their families,” he said.
The escalation of the situation in the Rif was duelargely to the chilling wave of arrests that targeted dozens of protesters and leading activists of the protest movement, Hirak in May and June. The heavy charges that pressed against them, including “undermining the security of the state and the loyalty of citizens to state institutions,” toughened the local population’s stance against the government.
While the detained activists were making sure the movement remains peaceful, Hirakfound itself without leaders. As a result, protesters more comfortable with responding to police violence with violence, pushed for clashes with riot police, throwing rocks and Molotov cocktails at them.
The release of the Rif detainees has been a top demand of the local population, which has been demonstrating for eight months to end the “marginalization” of the area.
El Othmani, however, reiterated what his government spokesperson, Mustapha El Khalfi, said in June, affirming that the government has no solution regarding the the detainees, saying it is a matter for the judiciary.
“The government can’t intervene in the judiciary’s prerogatives,”EL Othmani said.
Since its appointment in April, the government has been criticized for its management of the crisis in the Rif. During a session heldby the coalition government in May, statements by some leading members, accusing protesters of separatism, caused an uproar among the local population and inspired the protest movement to adopt an even more hard-line position vis-à-vis the government.
The government soon backed down, and sought to initiate a dialogue with Hirak, but with no avail. During his TV appearance, El Othmani admitted the statements were wrong.
“To be honest, those statements should not have been made,” he said.
As the crisis continues, the government has been hoping that news about speeding up the realization of development projects in the region, especially the “Al HoceimaManarat Al Motawaist” mega project, launched by King Mohammed VI in 2015, will help alleviate the tension.
“I want to say to the inhabitants of Al Hoceima that the government is dealing with your demands with serious. The projects which were launched are taken care of. Every week there is going to be a meeting between the ministers in charge of the departments supervising the projects of ‘Al Hoceima Manarat Al Motawasit.’ Also, the investigation that King Mohammed VI ordered to determine the causes of the delay of projects will be carried out all the way to the end. People will be held accountable”.