Moroccan king calls for better Algeria ties, quick election

King Mohammed VI

Morocco's King Mohammed VI called Saturday for the reopening of his country's border with Algeria and prompt elections, weeks after winning support in a referendum to curb some of his prerogatives.
In the July 1 referendum, more than 98 percent of Moroccans approved a set of political reforms backed by the king following a series of youth-led, pro-democracy demonstrations in several cities.
In the annual speech on the anniversary of his 1999 coronation, the king said elections should be held soon. Any delay threatened the "dynamic of confidence" generated by the reforms, he said.
The date of the upcoming elections, the subject of regular negotiations between the interior ministry and the country's political parties, has yet to be fixed.
"Political parties are asked to redouble their efforts in favour of the reconciliation of citizens, particularly the young, with political action," he said in the speech from the Marchane Palace in Tangiers.
His audience was made up of civilian and military leaders, as well as foreign diplomats.
He called for the election of a new house of representatives to begin, "so that a new head of government can be named from the party which comes first."
In transferring some of the monarchy's political powers to elected leaders, the king hoped to prevent contagion of the Arab Spring protests that have sent shockwaves across the region.
But the political climate in Morocco remains tense and rather than satisfying the democratic aspirations of protesters the July 1 referendum fuelled popular demands for greater social justice.
Thousands of people gathered in several cities on July 17 for rallies demanding more sweeping reforms of the Arab world's oldest reigning monarchy.
Morocco's youth-based February 20 movement, which has spearheaded the pro-democracy protests, has called for fresh rallies on Sunday to continue pressing for a parliamentary monarchy.
Faced with persistent political tensions at home, the king also said it was time to improve relations with neighbouring Algeria.
He advocated reopening a border that was closed in 1994 following an Islamist militant attack in Marrakesh that Morocco blamed on the Algerian secret services.
Tensions in the border region occasionally flare and last week a clash between Moroccan border guards and armed men coming from Algeria left one soldier dead.
Relations between Morocco and Algeria have also been strained by the long-running dispute over the Western Sahara.
Morocco's 1975 annexation of the territory, a former Spanish colony, sparked a war between its forces and Algerian-backed Polisario guerrillas.
The two sides agreed to a ceasefire in 1991 but UN-sponsored talks on Western Sahara's future have since made no headway.
Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika congratulated the king on his 12-year rule, which has seen improved ties between the countries, said a statement published by the APS news agency prior to the monarch's address.
Bouteflika hailed the political reforms "you have undertaken to lead your country towards democratic change, collective participation and good governance."
But a spokesman for Algeria's National Liberation Front (FLN), one of the country's main political parties, reacted more sceptically to the speech.
Talk of improving ties usually came with "nothing concrete", Kassa Aissi said.
But his party was committed to "more fruitful" relations with the Moroccan people, he said.
Moroccan party officials reacted by stressing the importance of effective preparations for the upcoming election.
Saad Eddine Othmani of the Justice and Development Party said: "The most important thing is not to prepare quickly for the elections, it's about preparing well.
"The interior minister suggested October to us but we refused. We think that March 2012 would be a good date."
Hassan Tarik of the Socialist Union Party of Popular Forces said: "We are in favour of the upcoming elections to break the current inactivity, even if holding them in October seems rather close."