The harbour town of Sidi Ifni, Morocco, became a battleground between groups of unemployed protestors and police forces last weekend. But while the authorities talk of a skirmish or two, web users say there was a full-blown riot followed by a brutal crackdown.
The conflict began on May 30 when hundreds of unemployed people, protesting against poor living standards, began to gather in an attempt to grind the port's operations to a halt. Demonstrators never achieved a blockade, however, as police forces intervened last weekend. Police insist they handled the situation without the use of excessive force, restoring order to the area.
Yet, Moroccan web users are unhappy with the official version. They're producing their own accounts, circulating images and comments on YouTube and alternative news websites about the violent attitude of the police. They tell of ransacked houses, brutal beatings and rubber bullets being fired irrationally. They also say that, for the first time ever in Morocco, the Mobile Intervention Company - the equivalent of France's notorious riot police (CRS) - disembarked by boat to back up the police forces in moving on the port-blocking protestors.
Web users say that the town is still in a state of siege, with hundreds of families having fled to the surrounding mountains after being made homeless, while the entire area is under helicopter surveillance. Not surprisingly, they contest arrest figures released by the ministry of interior. According to them, 160 people have been arrested rather than the 27 confirmed by the authorities.
Unable to curb information on the internet, Morocco is now attacking foreign news outlets for reporting unofficial versions of events. The Arabic news channel Al Jazeera is being chased for reporting that around ten people were dead following the incident. Citing defamation, Moroccan authorities have accused the channel of giving an unjustifiably negative image of Morocco. The official line is that "there were no victims".
Commentary from Larbi, one of our Observers for Morocco.
The day after the riots the Moroccan press agency Map released a dispatch giving the official version of events. I think that Abbas el Fassi willingly undervalued the protests and the crackdown. The official version, broadcast on Morocco's channel 2, talks only about "those looking for work expressing their demands", and doesn't mention the part the police played.
YouTube and other online media made it possible to break the mainstream media hold. There were indeed riots; violent confrontations between the two camps. If the authorities wanted to cover up their ever happening, they'll have a tough job with these videos online."