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King of Morocco announces reforms

King Mohammed VI has announced a broad revision of Morocco's constitution, a move aimed at boosting democracy in the North African country amid recent turmoil in the Arab world.

In a rare speech to the nation on radio and TV, the king said a new commission would recommend constitutional revisions to him by June, and the overall project would be put to Moroccan voters in a referendum.

"By launching today the work of constitutional reform, we embark on a major phase in the process of consolidation of our model of democracy and development," said the king.

The efforts aim in part to devolve greater power to Morocco's regions, improve the independence of courts, and ensure that the prime minister is selected by the majority party in parliament, he said.

The king said that women's rights and political participation - already a mainstay of his previous reforms - would be strengthened, such as ensuring through law that men and women have equal access to elective positions.

The plan would aim to broaden individual freedoms, solidify the rule of law and strengthen human rights. The king said he was committed to a "strong push" to revive the country's reform ambitions.

Morocco has so far avoided the persistent unrest that brought down regimes in fellow north African countries Tunisia and Egypt.

Five people, however, died in violence linked to protests across the country on February 20.

The main target of those protests was parliament, where many Moroccans fear their voices have not been heard - even though the king retains absolute power. The king did not make any direct reference to the upheaval that has swept across North Africa and elsewhere.

An ally of both Europe and the US, Mohammed VI is widely seen as a reformer compared to his iron-fisted father Hassan II - though human rights in the country have faced criticism. Last October, Human Rights Watch reported that suspects detained under Morocco's counter-terrorism laws are routinely subjected to human rights violations. The government denied those allegations.


From Belfast Telegraph