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Saturday, July 31, 1999 Published at 04:35 GMT 05:35 UK

World: Africa

Moroccan king pledges to help poor

King Mohammed VI arrives for his first official engagement

Morocco's new king, Mohammed VI, has delivered his first address to the nation since announcing the death of his father, King Hassan, a week ago.

In the televised address, King Mohammed said he was committed to constitutional monarchy, to political pluralism and economic liberalism.

The BBC's Nick Pelham in Rabat: "Speech emphasised reform"
Speaking from the throne, the king pledged to use his reign to help the poor and to find work for Morocco's two million unemployed.

Earlier, the king had led prayers at a mosque in Rabat.

Onlookers burst into applause as a red carriage drawn by four horses carried King Mohammed and his brother Moulay Rachid to the Ahl Fes mosque.

After prayers, the new king slowly rode back to the palace on a black horse, to the applause of the crowd, numbering about 40,000.

His succession has raised hopes in Morocco of a new commitment to tackling the country's social malaise.

The new king has a more humanitarian image than his father, Hassan II, whose funeral was on Sunday.

[ image: King Hassan was laid to rest alongside his father in the royal mausoleum]
King Hassan was laid to rest alongside his father in the royal mausoleum
The authorities are hoping the 40 days of mourning will also win them a breathing space.

State television continues to broadcast Koranic recitals and replay lamentations from the massive crowds at Hassan's funeral.

The kingdom - normally proud of its ability to juggle the opening hours of mosques and bars - is rigidly enforcing a ban on alcohol.

Only hoteliers, worried by plummeting tourist revenues for the summer season, have won a reprieve.

Heightened religious awareness

And the heightened Islamic awareness of the past week is serving to bolster the religious credentials of the new, hitherto insular, king.

The state media refers to him as Commander of the Faithful, the country's supreme spiritual as well as political leader.

But 12 million Moroccans live in poverty and in a recent interview Interior Minister Driss Basri said it was not inconceivable that Islamists could one day take power at the polls.

Under King Hassan, popular devotion for the king's religious office helped avert the type of political Islam which has openly challenged the authorities in neighbouring Algeria.

By leading the Friday prayers, King Mohammed VI will be hoping to reaffirm the loyalty which has preserved his dynasty for more than 300 years.

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