* Riots not linked to calls for political reform
* Nationwide political protest planned for Sunday
RABAT, Feb 19 Protesters attacked a police
station and premises linked to French firms in the Moroccan city
of Tangier late on Friday in a dispute over the local utility
firm's management, organisers and residents said on Saturday.
The riots came one day before a planned nationwide protest
to push for political reform but there was no immediate evidence
of a direct link.
Spokespeople at the communication and interior ministries
did not respond to requests for comment.
Riot police intervened to break up the protest, which
evolved from a sit-in in front of the city hall to a march that
gathered hundreds of protesters, the Moroccan branch of the
local activist organisation Attac said on its website.
The sit-in was organised by Attac Maroc to push for the
cancellation of a utilities contract that the city has awarded
to an affiliate of the French firm Veolia (VIE.PA).
Moroccans in cities where foreign firms run utility services
often complain of hefty tariffs.
Residents, speaking on condition of anonymity, confirmed
that a protest initially against utilities tariffs had developed
into a march, which anti-riot police prevented from reaching the
"No tear gas, nothing was fired. They used long truncheons
to disperse the crowds," one resident said.
Tanjanews.com published pictures showing the shattered
windows of a police station and branches of firms affiliated to
Veolia and the French bank Societe Generale SOCGn.PA, and said
a branch of the latter had been set on fire.
A group of young Moroccans that calls itself the February 20
Movement for Change has called 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 group also wants to force the 47-year-old monarch to
dismiss the government and dissolve parliament.
The group has gathered more than 17,000 Facebook fans, and
opposition Islamists and leftist militants have announced they
will join the protest.
Pro-monarchy militants have also announced counter-marches
in support of a dynasty that has been ruling Morocco for almost
Authoritarian Arab leaders are watching carefully for signs
of unrest spreading through the region after revolts in Tunisia
and Egypt. But the credit rating agencies Standard & Poor's and
Fitch have said Morocco is the least likely of the Maghreb
states to be affected by the wave of popular unrest.
(Writing by Souhail Karam; Editing by Kevin Liffey)