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Morocco vows to punish culprits as protests rage over fishmonger's death

Demonstrators remain on streets amid claims Mouhcine Fikri was deliberately crushed in rubbish cart while retrieving confiscated fish
Mourners carry the coffin of Fikri in the northern town of Hoceima on 30 October (Reuters)

Thousands of Moroccans continued to protest on Monday after a fishmonger was crushed to death in a rubbish compactor as the government promised to investigate claims that police were chanting for his death.

Mouhcine Fikri died on Friday in the northern town of Hoceima while trying to retrieve fish confiscated by police. His death, which was captured on mobile phone video, prompted dozens of protests across Morocco and a frenzy of angry postings on social media.

Sunday's rallies were called by activists from the February 20 movement, which organised demonstrations during the Arab Spring in 2011.

Mouhcine Fikri (screengrab)

Protests were held in Hoceima and other towns in the Rif region, long seen as a hotbed of dissent, and also in Casablanca and the capital Rabat, where hundreds gathered and chanted "Mohcine was murdered, Makhzen is to blame," in a reference to the royal establishment and its allies.

The interior minister, Mohamed Hassad, said an investigation would "determine the exact circumstances of the tragedy and punish those responsible," while reports said a number of people who had witnessed Fikri's death were being questioned over whether they heard police request the rubbish compressor to be reactivated when Fikri entered.

Moroccan police denied those accusations in a statement on Sunday.

Nevertheless, Moroccan social media users began the hashtag "Crush his mother" - a reference to what was allegedly said by police before he died - to report updates on the protests around the country.

Translation: "You live in injustice, you die crushed"

Initial post-mortem examination results quoted by the media on Monday showed Fikri suffered "fractures of the five first ribs left and right" and died from "hemorrhagic shock after a chest wound".

He was buried on Sunday.

The hashtag "we are all riffians" was also used, which referred to the Berber ethnic group from the Rif region in northern Morocco.

The Rif used to be an independent state but is now part of Morocco, and its distinctive red flag was seen in protests and on social media.

The Amazigh flag, which represents Berbers more generally, was also seen in the protests. 

In an effort to calm tensions, King Mohamed VI, currently on a tour in Africa, ordered the interior minister to visit the victim's family and give condolences.

Officials from Morocco's ruling Justice and Development Party (JDP) visited the victim's family to offer their condolences.

While condemning the incident, Prime Minister Abdelilah Benkirane also told the Moroccan news outlet al-Youm 24 on Sunday that his party's members and supporters will not join the protests while the investigation is ongoing. 

Translation: Prime Minister Benikrane's first comments on the death of Mouhcine Fikri 

Large-scale protests are rare in Morocco, and the king still holds ultimate sway. Morocco calmed protests in 2011 with reforms, spending and tougher security while leaders in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya were swept from power.

Protests are still ongoing in the fishmonger's home city of Hoceima, where activists are live-streaming demonstrations.

Moroccan authorities heavily monitor such protests, nervous over popular unrest since the 2011 demonstrations. At that time the king devolved some of his authority to an elected government in a constitutional reform.

But the royal court seemed to complicate matters for itself on Monday when news broke out that the King was going to pay a top lawyer to defend Moroccan singer Saad Lamjarred, who has been accused of sexual assault in Paris. 

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