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Morocco Fish Seller Mouhcine Fikri’s Death Ignites Protests

Thousands Protest Fishmonger Crushed in Garbage Truck 0:41

Protests erupted across Morocco on Sunday after a fish seller was reportedly crushed to death inside a garbage truck while trying to retrieve wares allegedly confiscated by police.

The incident mirrored the death of a Tunisian fruit seller whose self-immolation in 2011 was a catalyst for the Arab Spring that spread across North Africa and the Middle East that year.

Sunday's demonstrations were smaller but thousands of people gathered in Al-Hoceima, the northern town where the incident happened, as well as Casablanca and the capital of Rabat.

According to local media, authorities confiscated swordfish being sold by Mouhcine Fikri on Friday because it was not permitted to be caught this time of year.

Image: A Moroccan shouts as thousands of Moroccans protest against the death of Mouhcine Fikri
A Moroccan shouts during a protest in Rabat on Sunday against the death of Mouhcine Fikri. Abdeljalil Bounhar / AP

Footage posted to social media purported to show Fikri jumping in the back of a garbage truck to retrieve the fish before being crushed to death by its compactor.

The same activist groups that organized the 2011 movement called protests across the country, alleging that the police had ordered the garbage men to crush Fikri, according to Reuters.

Moroccans also posted messages on social media, venting their anger against "Hogra," a Maghreb word meaning persecution or injustice.

"I have never seen such a crowd in the last few years, since 2011 at least," activist Houssin Lmrabet told Reuters. "Everyone feels crushed by that garbage truck here."

According to the news agency, demonstrators in Rabat shouted "Mohcine was murdered, Makhzen is to blame" in a reference to the royal establishment and its allies.

Image: Protesters shout slogans in the northern Moroccan city of Al-Hoceima
Protesters shout slogans in the northern Moroccan city of Al-Hoceima on Sunday following the death of Mouhcine Fikri. FADEL SENNA / AFP - Getty Images

Police denied the accusations, but Morocco's King Mohammed VI ordered "a careful and thorough investigation" and vowed to bring charges against whoever was "responsible."

The investigation would serve "as a warning to anyone who would fail to fulfil his tasks and duties," according to a royal statement.

The king devolved some powers to the government in an attempt to appease the 2011 uprising but he still retains most executive control.

The Economist's Democracy Index ranks Morocco as a "hybrid regime" between authoritarianism and democracy.

Human rights organizations say Moroccan authorities severely restrict freedom of expression, assembly and association, arresting critics, disperse protests and torturing dissidents.