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5 die in Moroccan protests

Despite some violence, King Mohammed VI permits nation-wide demonstrations for reform.

The idea of a constitutional monarchy was promoted by the majority of protesters in all the cities.

The banned but tolerated Islamist political party, Justice and Charity, a long-time opponent to the regime, joined the movement and is using the opportunity to call for democratic change, according to a statement posted on their site.

In Marrakesh, some outsiders of the movement attacked a few store fronts on the main avenue Mohammed V.

The dead bodies in Al Hoceima were of "rioters who had tried to loot the bank" while others set fire to the building, according to the state-run Maghreb Arabe Presse news agency, which cited witnesses.

Interior Minister Taib Cherkaoui also said that 120 people were arrested in connection with the protests, although minors who were picked up were returned to their families. Despite the deaths and violence, Cherkaoui said the majority of protesters were peaceful.

In response to the marches, the nation’s Communication Minister Khalid Naciri promised the government will speed up reforms.

"Moroccan democracy is maturing,” he told reporters. “At a time when demonstrators in other Arab countries are met with violence, in Morocco they face institutional and political serenity. These reform demands have been part of our national agenda since King Mohammed VI came to power [in 1999.] Now we need to move into higher gear.”

Meanwhile, heated debates are taking place on the social networks. While the young organizers have used a Facebook campaign and YouTube videos to try appeal to others, many Moroccans are staunchly against the movement. They fear a revolution against the king and have posted his picture on their profile to express their devotion to him. Many have written, “Don't touch my king,” or “Don't be manipulated, we don't want unrest here.”

In contrast to governments in other Middle Eastern and North African countries where there have been protests, the Moroccan government didn’t express concern over the protests.

"Morocco is a country that has engaged, for a long time now, in an irreversible process of democracy and openness regarding liberties," government spokesman Khalid Naciri told journalists.

Preventative measures have, however, been taken to prevent mass upheavals: A few days ago the prime minister, Abbas El Fassi, announced the doubling of subsidies on basic foods. An additional 15 billion dirhams ($1.81 billion) will be added to the 17 billion dirhams provided for public subsidies in the 2011 budget.

Others warn about the possibility of an escalation of unrest in Morocco.

“The events in Tunisia and Egypt are an excellent opportunity for the European Union to encourage reforms in Morocco,” wrote the political expert José Ignacio Torreblanca in El Pais. “We do know that many of the triggers of Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions are present and that claims of young Moroccans are very similar.”

The organizers of the march plan to continue their peaceful efforts for change, hoping to have a positive impact on their country.

“The [Feb. 20] campaign is a great example of eloquence, of political sophistication and of dignity,” Moulay Hicham said. “As a Moroccan, I am proud to see young people creating a bright political discourse.”