Updates, Morocco:  Five pro-democracy protesters have been killed and several others have been wounded in Morocco as thousands demand the King give up some of his powers. Protesters died during Sunday’s rallies. Morocco’s Interior Ministry said 120 demonstrators were also arrested during clashes with security forces. The developments come as popular power revolutions continue to sweep US-backed autocratic regimes across the Middle East and North Africa. Protesters demand the Moroccan King give up some of his powers and clamp down on government corruption.
The protest was initiated by a group calling itself the February 20 Movement for Change. Tens of thousands of people voiced support for the rallies. In an attempt to head off serious unrest, the Moroccan government has promised to boost subsidies for staples whose prices have sharply risen in recent. Human rights and civil groups as well as independent journalists have joined the movement. They are demanding constitutional reforms that would reduce King Mohammed’s powers and make the justice system more independent.
People chant slogans during a protest in Casablanca
 Morocco: Thousands of Moroccans in cities across the country demonstrated in favor of political reform on February 20, 2011, Human Rights Watch said today. Mostly peaceful demonstrations and marches took place in towns and villages largely without interference from police, who in some areas were barely in evidence. Morocco’s demonstrators encountered none of the deadly force utilized by the security forces against protesters in Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Bahrain, and Yemen.
“Morocco’s security forces have sometimes dispersed large demonstrations with considerable violence,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “Today, the security forces allowed Moroccan citizens to march peacefully to demand profound changes in how their country is governed.”
In Rabat, the capital, about 2,000 demonstrators massed at Bab al-Had Square and marched to parliament on Mohammed V Avenue, where they gathered to chant slogans calling for change: “Today or tomorrow, we will gain our rights,” “Down with Tyranny,” and “The people demand change.” Some demonstrators called for constitutional changes, an independent judiciary, and a new cabinet.
Sources in Casablanca, Morocco’s largest metropolis, and in Marrakesh and Agadir, told Human Rights Watch that hundreds of people demonstrated in each city. There were reports that protesters set fire to a police station in Marrakesh. There were also demonstrations in towns in the Rif, the mountainous area in the north of the country. Witnesses there said police kept a low profile around the protesters.
In Rabat, no more than a dozen widely dispersed, unarmed uniformed policemen monitored the protests between Bab al-Had and parliament. A few clusters of plainclothes agents stood on the periphery of the demonstration. Observers were surprised that no vans filled with auxiliary forces or riot police were anywhere to be seen, even though these vans are a common sight when demonstrations take place. A pro-government counter-demonstration of about 40 people took place up the street from the mass of reform protesters, but the two groups kept their distance.
There were no reports of arrests in Rabat as of nightfall.
However, in Larache in northwest Morocco, groups of persons set fire to a police station, robbed stores and tried to break into banks, according to a representative of the Moroccan Association for Human Rights. In Hoceima, groups of protesters vandalized a stadium, two political party offices and a pair of hotels, activists in the city said. Security forces replied with teargas and rubber bullets. There were reports of injuries. In Sefrou, a town in north central Morocco, pro-reform demonstrators clashed with supporters of the government, according to a person injured in the melee. In Marrakesh, groups of protesters burned a police station and damaged private cars and traffic lights, a witness told Human Rights Watch.
Morocco’s larger cities are the scene of frequent demonstrations. Protesters include well-organized groups of the unemployed who demand jobs, and families of political prisoners. There have also been solidarity demonstrations in favor of the Palestinian people. In one of the biggest demonstrations Casablanca has ever known, some half a million marched on March 12, 2000, to oppose plans to reform Morocco’s Sharia-based family code. According to Moroccan law, organizers of an outdoor demonstration must provide advance notification to authorities, who may forbid the event if they deem it a threat to the public order.
The response of security forces to demonstrations varies widely; they sometimes allow the event to run its course undisturbed; sometimes they beat the protesters with batons, and assault journalists who photograph or film the events. Authorities have over the years charged hundreds of Moroccans with participating in “illegal” demonstrations, and courts have sentenced many of them to prison terms of a few to several months.
As today’s protests wound down and Moroccans prepared for the beginning of the work week on Monday, organizers spoke of organizing another demonstration next weekend. “Morocco’s calm response to protests today should be the rule, not the exception for tolerating peaceful dissent,” said Whitson.
 YEMEN: Provocateurs loyal to Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh abruptly ceased attacks on peaceful demonstrators in Sanaa on February 20, 2011, according to sources in the Yemeni capital, Human Rights Watch said today. But violence in the south continued as security forces reportedly shot dead one protester in the port of Aden.
Protests by demonstrators calling for Saleh’s resignation continued in a half-dozen cities, including Aden, Taizz, and Sanaa. “Stopping pro-government provocateurs is a positive step, but President Saleh needs to ensure that the authorities allow peaceful protests across Yemen,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch.
Anti-government protesters shout slogans during a protest in Sanaa © 2011 Reuters
More than 1,000 students and other protesters at Sanaa University were suddenly left in peace the afternoon of February 20, after 10 days of attacks that had continued through that morning by gangs of provocateurs. These included individuals in civilian clothes that witnesses said they recognized as members of the security forces. Municipal police – who had stood by in previous days as the gangs attacked with weapons, including guns, sticks, blocks of cement, and daggers – underscored the shift by approaching the students to say they would protect them, activists at the scene told Human Rights Watch.
The students announced they will erect tents and stage an indefinite sit-in in an open area at the gates of Sanaa University. They immediately named the gateway “Change Square,” in an effort to emulate the protests in Cairo’s Tahrir Square. “They are singing, they are chanting, they are peaceful. It is a beautiful moment,” Tawakkol Karman, a Yemeni activist and journalist participating in the sit-in, told Human Rights Watch.
In Aden, which has been the epicenter of a simmering separatist movement for several years, tanks and armored vehicles patrolled the streets. Human rights activists told Human Rights Watch they have identified 10 protesters shot dead by security forces in Aden between February 16 and 19, in addition to the person reported killed on February 20. The activists said that on the morning of February 20, police in Aden arrested Hassan Baoum, a prominent member of Yemen’s Southern Movement, from a hospital where he was undergoing medical treatment. As of that evening, Baoum’s whereabouts remained unknown.
Two other protesters initially believed to have died in Taiz and Sanaa in previous days were instead in critical condition, the activists said. One was injured by a grenade thrown at anti-Saleh protesters by an unknown assailant and the other from gunshot wounds to the head fired by a man the activists believed to be a security agent in plainclothes. More than 100 others have been injured in protests across Yemen.
The abrupt disappearance of the pro-Saleh provocateurs in Sanaa coincided with a speech by the president in which he condemned attacks on protesters and urged dialogue with the students and opposition parties. Saleh has publicly blamed the uprisings on unspecified foreign influences. The opposition coalition group Joint Meeting Parties has said it will not enter into any negotiations with the president until the violence stops and has lately made statements supporting the protesters. More than a dozen prominent members of the ruling General Peoples Congress, including members of parliament, have either resigned or threatened to resign if the violence continues.
 Human Rights Watch, Morocco: Thousands March for Reform
 Human Rights Watch, Yemen: Tenuous Calm in Sanaa
 Press TV: Five killed in Morocco protests
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