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Moroccan protesters reject king's draft constitution

From Martin Jay, For CNN
In a peaceful demonstration Sunday in Casablanca, thousands called for an overhaul of Morocco's governance.
In a peaceful demonstration Sunday in Casablanca, thousands called for an overhaul of Morocco's governance.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Widespread corruption must be fixed first, groups say
  • Protesters also want end to political detentions
RELATED TOPICS
  • Morocco

Casablanca, Morocco (CNN) -- Thousands of Moroccans held a peaceful demonstration nationwide Sunday, calling for a radical overhaul of the country's governance before a new constitution is unveiled in June by King Mohammed VI.

The march was organized by the Facebook youth movement Fevrier 20. The group said its members would not accept the present draft constitution because it was written by the king's own people. It denounced his decision to refer the new constitution to a committee he appointed.

King Mohammed announced last month he would give up some of his wide-scale powers and make the judiciary independent -- the latter a particularly hot subject in Morocco.

Protesters in Casablanca demanded much more and openly rejected the moves.

"We are not believing these speeches anymore. We are tired of this," said medical student Meryum, 17, who did not want to give her full name. "We are telling those who defend these speeches that we are sick of them. We only believe in real people today, like this, in taking part in real politics in Morocco. We are not going to stop until they hear us and get back our lost rights."

Many believe that bribery in Morocco needs to be tackled before any reforms can actually take place. The central theme of the march -- corruption -- was reiterated by most groups at the rally.

Morocco was recently ranked the 89th most corrupt country in the world by Transparency International.

Corruption accounts for a loss of about 2% of Morocco's GDP, officials have said. More important, it deters vital foreign direct investment from flowing into Morocco, they say.

Calls for an end to political detention and questions about the king's personal business activities were also on protesters' banners. There was visible resentment at the royal family's business operations, controlled by its holding company SNI. There were also groups protesting the prices of basic household items.

"I came here today because we are Moroccans and we want a democratic state ... we are not in a democratic state and we want democracy, liberty and dignity," said engineering student Tehani, 20, who did not want to give her full name and is a member of Fevrier 20. "We want a new constitution but a constitution who comes from 'la masse populaire,' not from one person," she told CNN at the rally in Casablanca. "We want a committee which represents all the Moroccans, we want a committee of a constitution which we choose."

"This manifestations of Morocco is a real message to the king that people really need real change in this country," added a young male student. He said he wished to remain anonymous when plainclothes policemen moved closer as demonstrators photographed his being interviewed by CNN.

According to local media, most large towns in Morocco had peaceful protests, with Casablanca's the biggest. Groups included unions, women, the unemployed, students, victims of human rights violations and Islamists.