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Morocco police arrest protestor who impersonated king

Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation - Thu, 13 Dec 2012 19:00 GMT
Author: Reuters
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RABAT, Dec 13 (Reuters) - A Moroccan anti-government protestor who dressed up as King Mohammed has been arrested and accused of possessing drugs, the man's lawyer and human rights activists said on Thursday.

Idris Boutarada, a member of the 'February 20' movement that led Arab Spring protests in Morocco last year, was detained by police on Monday after taking part in an anti-government protest near parliament in Rabat two days earlier.

Arab Spring protests spread to Morocco last year after uprisings in Egypt in Tunisia brought down veteran rulers.

The protests faded after the king introduced some constitutional limits to his powers and allowed an Islamist party to form a cabinet after winning early elections.

But some small demonstrations have continued, mainly led by unemployed graduates. February 20 activists have also staged protests including one against the monarchy's share of the budget that police broke up last month.

Boutarada's lawyer Smail Amar said his client was dressed in a traditional Moroccan djellaba and red hat, which the king often wears. He also walked with a crutch. The king has appeared in public on several occasions with a walking stick. Photographs of Boutarada dressed in this way circulated on social media.

Amar said prosecutors were investigating Boutarada, who is unemployed, for carrying 15 grams of cannabis. Boutarada denied this charge, the lawyer said.

"We asked the prosecutor to specify that our client is a political activist but he refused," Amar said. He also said he believed the case was linked to Boutarada's attire.

A Moroccan interior ministry spokesman was not immediately available for comment.

"We are absolutely sure that Boutarada was arrested because he took part in the protests ... last Saturday," said Youssef Errissouni of the Moroccan Human Rights Association. "It's not the first time that activists are targeted in this way."

Errissouni said around 60 activists from the pro-democracy movement remain in jail, some pending trials and appeals.

The government increased social spending last year to help contain protests but this has put more pressure on the country's public finances, already squeezed by the crisis in the euro zone, its main economic partner.

(Reporting by Aziz El Yaakoubi; Editing by Andrew Hammond and Jane Merriman)

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