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Around 2,000 protesters took to the streets of Morocco’s capital Rabat on Sunday, in the latest in a week of rallies over a fish vendor crushed to death in a garbage compactor after a confrontation with police. The death a week ago of Mouhcine Fikri has triggered the largest protests in the North African kingdom since 2011 when the “February 20” movement organized demonstrations for reform inspired by the Arab Spring uprisings across the region.
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Since he was crushed inside a garbage truck as he tried to retrieve fish the police confiscated from him, Fikri has become a symbol for protests against official abuses and the Makhzen, a term used to describe the royal establishment.
“The death of Mouhcine, is like a death for all Moroccans,” said Khadija Zerwal, 22, at the Rabat rally. “This won’t stop until we get dignity and fairness.” Protesters marched peacefully towards the parliament, but there was little police presence. Many waved flags, chanting against the ruling elite and demanding dignity.
Large political protests are rare in Morocco, where the king still holds ultimate power. Morocco calmed Arab Spring-style protests in 2011 with reforms, higher spending and tighter security as leaders in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya were ousted. Moroccan authorities have charged 11 people, jailing eight, over the death of Fikri who was crushed in a trash truck while trying to stop police from destroying 500 kilograms of swordfish they say he purchased illegally.
Fikri’s death echoes how Tunisia’s revolt began in 2011, triggering uprisings across the region, after a young man set himself on fire because police confiscated fruit and vegetables he was selling. But Morocco has a deeply rooted monarchy – the Muslim world’s longest-serving dynasty. Even in 2011 protests called only for reform not an end to the king’s rule. Many are also wary of the unrest troubling other nations in the region.
Still, Morocco’s protests erupted at a sensitive moment as the kingdom prepares to host the 2016 United Nations climate change conference and the prime minister starts to form a coalition government after elections.