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Police violence reaching new levels in Morocco with Sunday beatings

From Martin Jay, For CNN
A police officer kicks a demonstrator during a protest in Rabat, Morocco, last week.
A police officer kicks a demonstrator during a protest in Rabat, Morocco, last week.
  • Protesters say police on motorcycles struck out with truncheons
  • Government spokesman says demonstrators were provocative
  • EU calls for restraint from government
  • Protesters want more freedom, jobs, better conditions

Casablanca, Morocco (CNN) -- Security forces in Morocco appear to be intensifying their hard-line crackdown on demonstrators, with a second violent clash over the weekend leaving scores of youths injured.

On Sunday there were bloody battles on the streets between a youth movement and police. It was the second weekend in a row that police have beaten protesters with long truncheons.

Fevrier 20, Morocco's Facebook youth movement, staged a rally in the country's commercial capital without permission from the government Sunday -- sparking waves of police violence and in some cases panicking from individual officers, according to at least one YouTube video clip that shows an officer kicking and striking an old woman caught in the frenzy at least once with a baton.

The same clip shows a young man on the ground being beaten and kicked by officers while other colleagues on motorcycles accelerate through crowds striking protesters with long batons.

Mounaim Ouihi, one of the organizers of Sunday's protest, said 15,000 people gathered in the Sbata district of Casablanca to demand more democratic freedoms, jobs and better social conditions. He said police sealed off streets around the district to block people, swelling the numbers, then sent several 30-strong squads of truncheon-wielding officers charging into the crowd.

"There was a lot of violence, and we are now calling a halt," Ouihi said. "This protest has again sent out our message demanding freedom."

Yet perhaps it's a message that has fallen on deaf ears in Rabat, the country's administrative capital. The government's chief spokesman said the demonstration was banned and that police acted in response to what he described as provocative behavior by the protesters.

The protesters "were warned that this protest was illegal but their behavior was provocative," Communications Minister Khalid Naciri said. He added that there had been counter-protests in Casablanca, Rabat and Fez by citizens who wanted to express their anger at the damage to the Moroccan economy caused by the Fevrier 20 protests.

"We are concerned about the violence used ... We call for restraint in the use of force and respect of fundamental freedoms," European Union spokesperson Natasha Butler said. "... We call on Morocco to maintain its track record in allowing citizens to demonstrate peacefully. We are following these demonstrations very closely, and encourage all parties to engage in a peaceful dialogue with a view to finding solutions to the issues raised by the demonstrators."

In Morocco, unlike many other Arab countries, demonstrations are usually permitted, as long as a formal application is made to the state.

The youth movement claims it has never applied for permits and it is just recently that the government is using this as a pretext to hit it hard.

"Now we are just a few weeks away from the constitution being announced by the king's own committee and they don't want any more protests," said a protester who wished to be known only as Imad and who was injured in the battle Sunday.

Imad claims the police injured "around 100 people" who took to the streets Sunday as an immediate show of defiance to the previous weekend. Then, Moroccan police quelled a number of protests across the entire country, stopping supporters of the youth movement demonstrating against corruption and demanding more jobs. The May 22 demonstrations ended in a huge number of casualties and arrests. According to Fevrier 20, some 90 protesters were hurt, six with fractured arms and two with fractured legs.

Neither Sunday's nor May 22's demonstrations were legal, according to the government.