February 19, 2011 / 9:00 PM / 9 years ago

Morocco Feb. 20 protest leaders quit after row

* Youth movement withdraws from protest planned for Sunday

* Leader cites disagreement with Islamists over monarchy

RABAT, Feb 19 (Reuters) - A Moroccan youth movement that led calls for nationwide protests on Sunday has pulled out because of a disagreement with Islamists and leftists over the role of the monarchy, one of its leaders said.

With two friends, Rachid Antid used Facebook last month to start the Freedom and Democracy Now movement. Thousands of mostly young Moroccans joined it, inspired by uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt.

Under the umbrella of the ‘February 20 Movement for Change’, which boasts 19,000 Facebook fans, Antid’s group was the first to call for nationwide protests on Sunday to push for constitutional reforms that would reduce King Mohammed’s powers and make the justice system more independent.

The Feb. 20 movement also wants to force the 47-year-old monarch to dismiss the government and dissolve parliament.

The banned Islamist Justice and Charity, believed to be the country’s biggest opposition force, and leftist parties later announced they would join the protest.

But Antid told Reuters his group was withdrawing from the demonstrations because of differences with those new members.

“After announcing their intention to join the Feb. 20 protest, it emerged in discussions with them that they don’t want to make a firm commitment in terms of respect for the monarchy,” Antid told Reuters.

“There is vagueness about their political agenda, starting with their position regarding the monarchy as a consensual political regime for the nation,” Antid added.

His movement has made clear its commitment to keeping the monarchy. Justice and Charity disputes the king’s eligibility for the religious title of Commander of the Faithful, and has said the country should enact deep reforms or face peaceful popular protests to eradicate ‘autocracy’.

Antid said members of his Freedom and Democracy Now “make up the majority of the Feb. 20 Movement for Change” a claim that could not immediately be verified.

Saeed Bin-Jebli, from the Feb. 20 movement, said Antid was “bowing to pressure from authorities” and that only a handful of protesters would be lost after his departure.

The independent Human Rights Association, a key supporter of the organisers, also said Sunday’s protest would still go ahead. (Reporting by Souhail Karam; Editing by Mark Trevelyan)

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