RABAT — Morocco's King Mohammed VI on Wednesday announced a "comprehensive constitutional reform" to be put to the people in a referendum, in his first speech following uprisings across the Arab world.
Less than a month after protests erupted in Morocco demanding more social justice and limits on his powers, the king pledged to draw up a new draft constitution by June.
"We have decided to undertake a comprehensive constitutional reform," King Mohammed said, underlining his "firm commitment to giving a strong impetus to the dynamic and deep reforms... taking place."
The monarch announced the formation of a commission to work on the constitutional revisions, with proposals to be made to him by June.
A referendum would be held on the draft constitution, he added.
The live broadcast was the first time the king has delivered an address to the nation since thousands of people demonstrated in several cities on February 20 demanding political reform and limits on his powers.
They were the first protests in the country since the start of the uprisings across the Arab world that toppled the presidents of Tunisia and Egypt this year.
There have been other peaceful rallies since then, including in the capital Rabat and the country's biggest city Casablanca, with young activists campaigning for greater democracy using the Facebook social network to call for new demonstrations on March 20.
Six people were killed in unrest that erupted after the February 20 demonstrations, including five found burned to death in a bank set ablaze by people whom officials labelled vandals.
Another 128, including 115 members of the security forces, were wounded in the violence and 120 people were arrested, the interior ministry said.
Dozens of vehicles and buildings were also damaged or set alight.
On February 21, during the launch of an Economic and Social Council, the king spoke of his commitment to "pursuing the realisation of structural reforms".
He also expressed his willingness to "strengthen" the country's accomplishments "by new reforms".
An advisor to King Mohammed VI also told union leaders late last month that the monarch wanted reforms, without specifying what they would be or when they would be introduced, according to a union activist at the meeting.
The advisor, Mohammed Moatassim, said "that the king has decided to start political, economic and social reforms", Democratic Federation of Labour secretary general Abderrahmane Azzouzi told AFP.
He also "specified that Morocco cannot remain indifferent to what is happening around it", Azzouzi said.
The Moroccan government has said it had heard the demands for more change and was committed to speeding up reforms, which it said were already on its national agenda.
Opposition Islamist Justice and Development Party (PJD) leader Abdelilah Benkirane welcomed the speech saying that Mohammed had "reacted positively to the demands made by the parties and young people".
"We are almost surprised," he said in a first reaction, welcoming the monarch's "powerful" response.
"The PJD is satisfied. This development looks more like a revolution and the concerned parties are asked to work seriously to make the contents of the speech become reality."
"This is a break with a discredited past," said political scientist Mohamed Darif. "He has met the demands of many Moroccans who never stopped to ask for institutional and political reforms."
"This speech breaks with the monarchy as an executive power. It does not create a parliamentary monarchy but provides for a balanced monarchy where power is divided between the king and a government based on parliament."
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