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Wednesday, 17 May, 2000, 07:15 GMT 08:15 UK
Moroccan Islamist leader freed

Yassine on a brief visit to the mosque in 1995
By Nick Pelham in Rabat

Morocco's Interior Minister, Ahmed Midaoui, has announced that an Islamist leader, Abdessalam Yassine, has been released after more than 10 years under house arrest without trial.

In a televised broadcast, Mr Midaoui said Mr Yassine was free in his movements provided he obeyed the law.

The 72-year-old Mr Yassine is the spiritual mentor of Morocco's largest but banned Islamist opposition movement, Justice and Good Deeds.

The release of Mr Yassine, a former school inspector, is designed to close Morocco's most prominent case of alleged human rights abuse.

"Commander of the Faithful"

Government ministers had long called for his release but palace officials argued Mr Yassine should first acknowledge the religious authority of King Mohammed VI, who bears the title "Commander of the Faithful".

Moroccan law holds the King sacred and declares criticism of him illegal.

But it is uncertain how far Mr Yassine will comply.

In a recent open letter, he called on King Mohammed to use what he claimed was billions of dollars of his father's wealth to pay off the national debt.

The Interior Minister has already warned that Mr Yassine will again face sanction if he fails to respect the law.

Political risk

But confronting the Islamist leader also carries political risks.

Earlier this year he joined forces with other Islamist groups to draw hundreds of thousands of Moroccans onto the streets to protest against government proposals to change Islamic family law.

And with his heady mixture of religion and politics, Mr Yassine is a firebrand the Moroccan authorities will not relish back in the pulpit.

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See also:

16 Apr 00 | Africa
Rights centre opens in Morocco
05 Mar 00 | Africa
Morocco torture protest
02 Oct 99 | Africa
Dissident returns to Morocco
25 Jul 99 | Africa
New king - new Morocco?
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