Moroccan authorities have arrested two more leaders of a protest movement that has been rallying for the last two weeks against corruption and unemployment in the region.
The northern port city of Al-Hoceima in the neglected Rif region has been rocked by social unrest since the death of a fishmonger in October who was crushed to death in a rubbish truck after authorities confiscated his livestock.
The demonstrations have snowballed since then with the movement demanding more development in the region.
Two of the protests leaders, Najib Ahamjik, and Silya Ziani, were arrested yesterday, a lawyer and an activist confirmed.
Ahamjik had gone into hiding after protest leader Nasser Zefzafi’s arrest but posted two online videos calling for “peaceful” protests to continue.
Ziani was in a taxi with three other activists on her way to Casablanca when they were all arrested. The three activists have since been released.
Zefzafi, who emerged as the head of the grassroots Popular Movement, was arrested on 29 May after three days on the run.
He was detained along with other protesters for “attacking internal security forces”, when a warrant for his arrest was issued last week after he interrupting a mosque sermon.
Around 40 activists and key members of the grassroots movement have been detained since the protests broke out with around 20 referred to the prosecution.
The government said on Sunday that “the doors to dialogue remain open”, despite clashes at the weekend between demonstrators and security forces.
Protesters in the Rif have rejected mediation efforts by local officials, branding the central authorities a “police state”.
The mainly ethnically Berber Rif region has had a long tense relationship with the central authorities in Rabat and was at the heart of the Arab Spring-inspired protests in Morocco in February 2011. The north has been seen as largely neglected compared to the south which is seen as having been better funded and developed by the Kingdom over the decades.
King Mohamed VI relinquished some of his near-absolute control through constitutional reforms following the 2011 protests believed to curb the protest movements.