Moroccans welcome king's reform vow, expect results

10th March 2011, Comments 0 comments

Moroccans largely welcomed Thursday King Mohammed VI's promise of sweeping reforms, announced as uprisings rock the Arab world, but said they wanted to see if concrete changes would result.

France and Spain, former colonisers which have become key trade partners, also praised the monarch's announcement in a rare national speech late Wednesday, calling it courageous and historic.

The king unveiled plans for constitutional reforms including a popularly elected prime minister with real powers, instead of a royal appointee, addressing the nation for the first time since pro-reform protests last month.

The country's two television channels rebroadcast large extracts of the address throughout the morning Thursday, accompanied by mostly positive commentary.

"It is a very good speech which responded to the demands of many Moroccans, especially the 'February 20' youths... it is a positive step," civil servant Mohammed Oussedri told AFP.

The youths rallied thousands of people to pro-democracy protests in several cities on February 20, with six people killed in unrest that erupted afterwards. They have called, via Facebook, for more protests on March 20.

The king said a commission would work on constitutional revisions, with proposals to be made to him by June. A referendum would then be held, he said, without giving a date.

France hailed the address as "responsible and brave".

"We are convinced that is a major speech for Morocco and for all the region, particularly in the current context," foreign ministry spokesman Bernard Valero said.

"The announcements concerning justice, women's rights, pluralism, Moroccan identity and terms for regionalisation are all significant and exemplary," he said.

Spanish foreign affairs secretary of state Juan Antonio Yanez-Barnuevo called it an historic speech that appeared to have "significant scope".

Protests in Morocco and Algeria in recent weeks were different from those in other countries hit by demonstrations in that they wanted reforms that have been under way for years to "be deepened and intensified," he said.

In Rabat manager Naima Glaf told AFP he hoped the announcement would see an overhaul of the constitution.

"We want a constitution that breaks with the one we have now, a real separation of powers and a more powerful prime minister who can be held accountable," he said.

A 22-year-old student who gave his name only as Rachid said he would have liked more in the speech.

"I think he did not mention concrete reforms like the fight against corruption in the circles of power, social injustices, and the unfairness of the access to administrative jobs, which are monopolised by certain families," he said.

King Mohammed, who has wide-ranging powers including over government, the army and the Supreme Court, underlined Wednesday a "firm commitment to giving a strong impetus to the dynamic and deep reforms... taking place."

He outlined seven major steps, including the way the prime minister is chosen.

Instead of being appointed by the king, the prime minister will be drawn from the political party which leads in the elections in parliament, he said.

The prime minister will have "effective executive power" and be "fully responsible for the government, public administration... and implementing the government's programme," he said.

He also pledged "expanded individual and collective liberties and the reinforcement of human rights in all dimensions" and spoke of the "will to set up an independent judiciary."

Opposition Islamist Justice and Development Party (PJD) leader Abdelilah Benkirane said late Wednesday that Mohammed had "reacted positively to the demands made by the parties and young people".

"We are almost surprised," he said.

© 2011 AFP

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