Protesters have rallied for a third night running in Morocco’s city of Al-Hoceima, in a northern region of the country where there has been growing social unrest. An AFP journalist saw several hundred mainly young demonstrators gathered in two neighbourhoods of the city on Sunday night, chanting “The state is corrupt!” and “Dignity!”.

They also shouted “We are all Zefzafi!” in reference to protest leader Nasser Zefzafi, who is on the run after authorities last week ordered his arrest. The protesters attempted to make their way to the city’s central square but were blocked by security forces. After an hour-long face-off with police the youths dispersed without incident. “We cannot take a single step, the police are everywhere,” an activist in the city told AFP, speaking on condition of anonymity. The activist said a solidarity rally had taken place in the nearby city of Imzouren.

Protests were also reported in two other northern cities, Nador and Tanger, as well as in Casablanca and the capital Rabat, where some 300 people took part. Morocco’s northern Rif region has been shaken by more than six months of social unrest since the death in October of a fishmonger crushed in a rubbish truck as he protested against the seizure of swordfish caught out of season. Calls for justice for Mouhcine Fikri, 31, soon evolved into a grassroots movement demanding jobs and economic development, with Zefzafi emerging as the leader of the Al-Hirak al-Shaabi, or “Popular Movement”.

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Zefzafi’s arrest was ordered after he on Friday allegedly interrupted a preacher at a mosque and called for further demonstrations. Evening protests followed on Friday and Saturday, with demonstrators clashing with police. As of late Sunday police had arrested 22 people in connection with the disturbances, according to officials. Local sources have reported significantly more arrests and said many of those detained have been transferred to Casablanca.

The mainly ethnically Berber Rif region has long had a tense relationship with Morocco’s central authorities and was at the heart of Arab Spring-inspired protests in 2011. The protests subsided following a series of political reforms including constitutional changes that saw King Mohamed VI give up some of his wide-ranging powers.

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