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Tuesday, 31 July, 2001, 10:14 GMT 11:14 UK
Morocco considers Berber rights
King Mohamed
King Mohamed wants his country to be a beacon for human rights
King Mohammed VI of Morocco has promised to set up a body to preserve the language and culture of the country's Berbers, who make up a majority of the population.

In a speech to mark the second anniversary of his accession to the throne, the king said the body would work towards integrating the Berbers, also known as Imazighen, into the education system.

Berber activists have been campaigning for their language, Amazigh, to be recognised as the country's official language.

Reiterating his pledge two years ago to build of a modern democratic state, the king said the issue of identity was "crucial" and affected all Moroccans.

Besides its role of reviving the Berber culture, the institute will be in charge of preparing and monitoring the integration of Amazigh into the educational system.

King Mohamed VI

The Moroccan constitution recognises only Arabic as the official language.

This has effectively prevented many Berber children, who speak only Amazigh, from gaining an education.

In June, Moroccan authorities stopped Berber activists from holding a meeting aimed at creating a united group to press for Berbers' rights.

'National treasure'

Berbers lived in what is now Morocco before the Arab invasion in the seventh century.

King Mohammed said he had decided to set up the Royal Institute for Amazigh Culture "to strengthen the pillars of our ancestral identity" bearing in mind "the need to give a new impulse to our Amazigh culture, which is a national treasure".

The king said: "The institute will be in charge of preparing and monitoring the integration of Amazigh into the educational system, in conjunction with the other ministerial services."

Berber activists welcomed the announcement.

They pointed out, however, that in 1978 the Moroccan parliament approved the creation of a national institute for Berber studies, but the institute was never set up.

See also:

25 Jul 01 | Africa
King launches charm offensive
26 Jul 01 | Country profiles
Country profile: Morocco
16 Apr 00 | Africa
Rights centre opens in Morocco
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