Protesters clashed with riot police in northern Morocco on Sunday evening as people marked the anniversary of the death of an anti-colonial hero, leaving 27 injured, according to authorities. Hundreds took to the streets in the city of Al-Hoceima and other towns of the Rif region, a Berber majority area which has been the scene of dissent over the last few decades.
Al-Hoceima witnessed mass protests in October last year when thousands protested against corruption and official abuses after a fishmonger was crushed to death in a garbage truck as he attempted to retrieve fish that had been confiscated by authorities.
The anniversary commemorated on Sunday was in honour of Mohammed Ben Abdelkerim El-Khattabi, a regional hero who had fought against the Spanish and French occupation in the 1920s and who is seen as an opponent of the ruling elite. El-Khattabi died in exile in Egypt in 1963.
According to activists, police began using tear gas and rubber bullets against the protesting crowds, injuring dozens.
However, authorities denied the claims and stated that 27 officers had been wounded and were taken to hospital when protesters threw stones at the police. No arrests were made according to Reuters which could not independently confirm the accounts given by witnesses.
Videos were shared on social media that showed riot police with batons chasing protesters and throwing stones back at them in Boukidaren, near Al-Hoceima.
“After a group of people organised a sit-in in the town of Boukidaren without meeting the required legal conditions and blocked roads, authorities intervened to disperse the gathering in full respect of the law to re-establish the flow of traffic,” a police statement said.
Protests organised are often heavily policed by Moroccan authorities who are keen to keep them under wraps since the popular unrest in 2011’s Arab Spring lead to mass protest movements across the Middle East and North Africa.