King of Morocco outlaws Islamic parties on fourth anniversary of his reign

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The Independent Online

King Mohammed of Morocco has declared that Islamic parties will be banned, insisting he is the North African country's only representative of Islam.

He was speaking on the fourth anniversary of his reign, and more than two months after bomb blasts in Casablanca left 44 people dead, including 12 suicide bombers.

Parties with a "religious, ethnic or regional base" would be outlawed, he said on Wednesday. "No one can use Islam as a trampoline to power in the name of religion, or to perpetrate terrorist acts," he said.

Trials resumed nationwide yesterday of hundreds of suspected Islamic fundamentalists terrorists, including many not linked with the attacks.

The King said that he would rush a law through parliament to ban "parties or groups claiming to monopolise Islam".

The measure will close down the Justice and Development Party, a moderate Islamic party opposed to violence, which has become the country's third strongest party. The King said that he would not permit the spread of "religious doctrines alien to Moroccan traditions" - seen as a reference to the influence of Saudi Arabia, whose radical interpretations are said to have stirred up fundamentalism in Morocco's shanty towns and unofficial mosques.

He blamed local authorities for allowing slums to proliferate, in tacit recognition that these were breeding grounds for Islamic radicals.

On the eve of King Mohammed's anniversary, Algeria offered to end decades of tension with its neighbour, and to re-establish links. President Abdelaziz Bouteflika told Morocco that he wanted "to close ranks and strengthen relations ... between our two countries".

Both countries want to please the US and are likely to be responsive to American desires to secure oil and gas supplies, and to guarantee stability in the region. The rapprochement is thought to augur a possible solution to the Western Sahara conflict, though Mr Bouteflika did not mention it. A UN deadline to resolve the conflict expired yesterday.

The Moroccan government rejects eventual independence for Western Sahara - the goal of the territory's Polisario Front, backed by Algeria. Morocco will grant only autonomy, although the King said that he was open to any "fair-minded initiative" on the matter.

There were signs of movement towards resolution when the Polisario Front signalled recently that it could accept autonomy within Morocco. That marked a U-turn for what has been for decades a national liberation movement.

King Mohammed also granted amnesty to nearly 700 common criminals on Wednesday. But he did not authorise the release of the journalist Ali Lmrabet, who was jailed for lampooning the King in his satirical magazines.