Protesters hold portraits of grassroots leader Nasser Zefzafi during a demonstration in Rabat on June 4, 2017 in solidarity with Morocco's neglected Rif region. (Photo by AFP)
Authorities in Morocco have arrested two prominent leaders of a protest movement that has swept through the country in defiance of government calls for peace and calm.
A lawyer and an activist said on Monday that Najib Ahamjik and Silya Ziani, two leaders of the Al-Hirak al-Shaabi, or "Popular Movement", had been arrested.
The death in October of a fishmonger in the northern port city of al-Hoceima sparked protests and social unrest in the city and other towns of the neglected Rif region. The protests spread to other parts of Morocco when people heard the story of Mouhcine Fikri, 31, who was crushed in a rubbish truck after protesting local officials' seizure of swordfish caught out of season.
Ahamjik is seen as Al-Hirak's number two while Ziani is an active member. Their arrest comes more than a week after authorities detained Nasser Zefzafi, the head of the grassroots movement. Zefzafi’s detention on May 29, three days after prosecutors issued a warrant for his arrest, had fueled more protests in al-Hoceima, a city of 56,000 inhabitants.
Ahamjik had gone into hiding after Zefzafi’s arrest while Ziani, a woman, was arrested along with three other activists when they were traveling on a taxi to Casablanca. Reports said the three were later released.
A protester is seen demonstrate in Rabat on June 4, 2017 in solidarity with Morocco's neglected Rif region. (Photo by AFP)
Protests continued in al-Hoceima and other towns in Rif on Sunday, with hundreds demonstrating for the ninth straight night. A smaller rally was also held in Rabat. The government has offered talks, a demand that has been rejected by leaders of the protest movement.
Some 40 people, including notable activists and key members of the protest movement, have been arrested since May 26.
Local media say the movement has many things in common with protests in Rif and other regions of Morocco in 2011. The protests that year, although smaller in size compared to other Arab countries, forced King Mohamed VI to launch constitutional reforms and relinquish some of his near-absolute control.

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