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The BBC's Nick Pelham reports from Casablanca
"The turnout reinforces the Islamists' claim to be the largest opposition force in Morocco"
 real 28k

Sunday, 12 March, 2000, 17:26 GMT
Rival rallies over women's rights
Anti-reform demonstration in Casablanca
Half-a-million people joined the fundamentalist march
Muslim fundamentalists and women's groups have held counter demonstrations in two Moroccan cities over a government scheme to offer more rights to women.

Moroccan women reject these plans imposed by the West, while Sharia recognises women's rights and protects them

Nadia Yassine, Islamist campaigner
An estimated 500,000 fundamentalists demonstrated in Casablanca against the project, unveiled a year ago, dwarfing a demonstration by supporters of the plan, who rallied about 40,000 people in Rabat.

The plan would ban polygamy, raise the legal age for marriage from 14 to 18 and allow women half their husbands' wealth in case of divorce or death.

It would also put the right to divorce in the hands of a judge rather than the husband.

The plan, backed by the World Bank, also supports a literacy program for rural Moroccan women, 60% of whom are illiterate.

Defending Islam

The fundamentalists, organised mainly by the Justice and Spirituality movement of Abdesslam Yassine, say they are protecting "women's condition in the respect of Islam".

Anti-reform marcher
Anti-reform marchers denounced the government's plan as a Western imposition
"Moroccan women reject these plans imposed by the west, while Sharia recognises women's rights and protects them," said Nadia Yassine, daughter of Sheikh Yassine.

"We defend Islam with our bodies and souls," the fundamentalists chanted in Casablanca, as men and women walked in separate columns.

Word of mouth

The march in Rabat in favour of legal reform was backed by the government.

"Rabat's rally is against violence and poverty suffered by women, while the Casablanca march is by men against women," said Fatiha Sdass, one of the Rabat activists.

Girl at anti-reform march
Many girls in Morocco marry young and remain illiterate
"The women are taking part in the Casablanca march against their will and have been forced to by their husbands and male relatives," she added.

The Rabat march had long been planned around International Women's Day on 8 March, while the fundamentalists only announced their counter-demonstration last week and publicised it by word of mouth without any media coverage.

Sheikh Yassine has been under house arrest outside Rabat for a decade, but his movement has grown increasingly vocal since King Mohammed VI ascended the throne following the death of his father, the late King Hassan II, last July.

The new monarch has moved quickly to bring a variety of social and human rights reforms to his kingdom, dismissing Interior Minister Driss Basri, who had been in office nearly 20 years, and allowing several exiled personalities to return home.

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31 Jul 99 | Africa
Morocco frees prisoners
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