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Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Morocco's El Otmani vows solar power tieup

Staff writer

Moroccan Foreign Minister Saad Dine El Otmani said he was not only filled with sadness and deep pain after meeting survivors of the March 11, 2011, disasters in Iwaki, Fukushima Prefecture, last week, but was also moved by their courage to move forward and rebuild their devastated region.

News photo
Foreign affairs: Moroccan Foreign Minister Saad Dine El Otmani is interviewed at The Japan Times earlier this month in Tokyo. SATOKO KAWASAKI

Hit with a triple disaster — the earthquake, tsunami and the nuclear crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 power plant — the victims are still trying to rebuild lives that were torn apart one year ago.

King Mohamed VI of Morocco was quick to offer his condolences to Emperor Akihito, and a team from the Moroccan Embassy in Tokyo went to Aizuwakamatsu, Fukushima Prefecture, to deliver food and other relief goods soon after the disasters struck.

And just last week, El Otmani, who was visiting Japan, and Foreign Minister Koichiro Genba signed a bilateral agreement for a grant of ¥300 million that will not only help Morocco with its democratization and economic development, but will also help the people of Tohoku because the money is earmarked to buy products from the disaster-hit region.

"The people of Morocco have a sense of solidarity with the people of Japan who have experienced a terrible tragedy a year ago with the earthquake and tsunami," El Otmani said in an interview with The Japan Times, adding that his country is interested in buying industrial products from the disaster-hit area.

"Japan has been supporting Morocco for a long time, but this time it is a great project because it will not only help the economic development of Morocco but also the economic recovery of the disaster area."

As voices of antinuclear advocates grow stronger in Japan, which is suffering through the worst nuclear crisis since the 1986 Chernobyl disaster, El Otmani and Genba have also agreed to strengthen cooperation in the field of solar energy.

El Otmani promised in a joint statement that he will establish a system that will make it easier for foreign companies, including Japanese firms, to enter the Moroccan market.

"Morocco has long sunlight and has great hidden potential to develop solar energy. Therefore, it would benefit both Japanese corporations and Morocco if they develop solar energy in our country," he said.

El Otmani was appointed foreign minister in January in the administration of Prime Minister Abdelilah Benkirane, whose Cabinet was formed as political change swept through North Africa and the Middle East last year amid the Arab Spring.

In Morocco, demonstrations kicked off Feb. 20, 2011, as tens of thousands of people throughout the country, including in the cities of Casablanca and Rabat, called for democracy and a reduction of the king's authority. In early March, King Mohamed VI responded by promising his people to revise the nation's constitution in a push toward democracy.

While the movement turned violent in some countries — especially in Libya and Syria where the governments have used lethal force to crack down on protesters — the revolution in Morocco was seen as nonviolent and the international community welcomed the king's proposed reforms.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton in March last year praised King Mohamed VI for promising various political and social reforms, saying that the country could serve as "a model for others in the region."

A referendum was held in July and Moroccans approved the constitutional revisions that transferred some of the king's authority to the prime minister and Parliament.

Under the new constitution, the prime minister, not the king, is the head of government and has the power to dissolve the lower house of Parliament.

And in November, the Justice and Development Party (PJD), the moderate Islamist party that El Otmani belongs to, won the general election for the first time and formed a coalition with three other parties.

"The people in the region stood up to make a change. Their thirst for freedom and democracy triggered" the Arab Spring, El Otmani said. "While the process has turned into conflict in some countries, I think Morocco succeeded in a peaceful transition to democracy."

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