Morocco: 5 found dead after pro democracy protest

Yemen’s besieged president rejects call to step down; Egyptian prosecutors seek international freeze on Mubarak assets.

By OREN KESSLER, ASSOCIATED PRESS
February 21, 2011 22:57
4 minute read.
Moroccan leader of a group of young activists

Morocco protests 311. (photo credit: AP Photo/Abdeljalil Bounhar)

Morocco’s interior minister says five charred bodies were found in a bank set alight by troublemakers on the sidelines of one of many protests nationwide pushing for more democracy in the kingdom.

Taeib Cherqaoui told reporters on Monday that at least 128 people – mostly security personnel – had been wounded in unrest linked to protests a day earlier that drew at least 37,000 demonstrators in dozens of towns and cities.

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The minister said that “troublemakers” vandalized dozens of public buildings, stores and banks, including one in the northeastern city of Al- Hoceima, where the five bodies were found. He said 120 people had been arrested.

The official MAP news agency, citing witnesses, said the bodies were of “rioters who had tried to loot the bank” while others set fire to the building, AFP reported.

Sunday’s protests were the largest demonstrations in Morocco since uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia overthrew their longtime presidents and sent a wave of protests across the Arab world. While placards and slogans did not directly attack King Mohammed VI, it was the first time demands for constitutional reform had been publicly expressed by ordinary Moroccans.

Also on Monday, Yemen’s embattled leader rejected demands that he step down, saying widespread demonstrations against his regime were unacceptable acts of provocation.

However, US-backed President Ali Abdullah Saleh, in power for three decades, offered to begin a dialogue with protesters. The proposal was quickly rebuffed as insincere by an opposition spokesman.

In another attempt to defuse anger, Saleh told a news conference that he had ordered troops not to fire at anti-government protesters except in self-defense. At least 11 people have been killed since protests erupted earlier this month, including a youth shot dead on Monday, medical officials said.

On Monday, around a dozen opposition MPs who vowed to take to the streets in a statement issued the day before joined students who had been protesting for nine days. AFP reported that security forces surrounded the protesters as they gathered in a square near Sanaa university, which they have dubbed Al-Huriya (Liberty Square), brandishing banners declaring: “People want change,” “People want to overthrow the regime” and “Leave!”

The protesters, who have set up tents at the square, vowed to stand firm despite Saleh having announced the formation of three committees to examine issues relating respectively to security, medical care and nutrition.

In Iran, Tehran and other cities remained on lockdown Monday as security forces continued to enforce a ban on street demonstrations. The London-based Arabic daily Asharq al-Awsat reported on Sunday that Iranian authorities had recruited 1,500 Hezbollah fighters to help crush opposition in the country. According to the report, leaders of Iran’s opposition said around 1,500 Hezbollah members arrived from Lebanon over the past few days to aid the Iranian regime in dispersing anti-government protests that broke out last week. Authorities have reportedly been stationing them in civilian clothing throughout the streets of the capital.

As of Monday night, the Asharq al-Awsat report had yet to be confirmed by other sources.

Egypt’s top prosecutor requested on Monday that the foreign assets of ousted president Hosni Mubarak and his family be frozen, state TV announced.

Security officials said the prosecutor-general asked the Foreign Ministry to contact countries around the world in order for them to freeze these assets. The president’s domestic assets were frozen soon after he stepped down, they added.

The freeze applies to Mubarak, his wife, his two sons and two daughters-in-law, the officials said.

The announcement came as British Prime Minister David Cameron arrived in Cairo to meet with top Egyptian officials, the first arrival by a world leader since Mubarak’s fall. He said he would talk to those in charge to ensure that “this really is a genuine transition” to civilian rule.

And in Tunisia, the spark for much of the Arab world’s subsequent protests, the government asked Saudi Arabia on Sunday whether its exiled former president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali was dead, and demanded his extradition if he was still alive, as thousands of people protested in the capital demanding that the caretaker government resign.

The 74-year-old Ben Ali fled to Saudi Arabia on January 14 following a massive popular uprising that ended his 23-year rule, and prompted a wave of protests against other autocratic leaders across the Arab world.

Tunisia’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement that it had asked Saudi Arabia to provide information “as soon as possible” on whether the ousted president’s health had deteriorated or on “the possibility of his death” in the wake of news reports on the matter in recent days.

The statement, reported by the official news agency TAP, also asked Saudi Arabia to extradite Ben Ali following “new charges against the ousted president for his implication in severe crimes.”

The call for extradition came a day after state TV jolted many Tunisians with a report showing investigators unearthing what they claimed were troves of jewels, cash and other riches in a secret safe tucked behind a bookshelf in a former Ben Ali palace.


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