Morocco army enforces state of emergency

Armoured vehicles patrol streets as police crack down on Moroccans defying coronavirus measures, spreading false information on social media.

RABAT - Morocco Sunday deployed armoured vehicles to enforce a state of emergency that seeks to forestall the deadly new coronavirus, as people defied orders by going to prayers or protesting on streets.

The national security force, the DSGN, said two people had been arrested in Tangiers for "inciting mass disobedience", in a post on its Twitter account on Sunday night.

The DGSN earlier said an individual had been arrested in the port city of Casablanca for selling movement permits, and a policeman in Marrakesh was under investigation on similar accusations.

Mosques in Morocco are closed and religious authorities have told the faithful to pray at home.

A public health state of emergency went into effect in the Muslim-majority country on Friday evening and security forces and the army have been deployed on the streets.

Images shared on social networks and broadcast by local media showed people chanting "God is greatest and only he can help us," in cities of Tangiers, Fez and Tetouan.

Some spoke of the virus as a "divine test".

The military deployed armoured vehicles in the capital Rabat as well as in other cities.

People have been ordered to stay at home, and restrictions on public transport and travel between cities are also in place, at least until April 20, in a bid to stem the spread of the COVID-19 disease.

Punishments for breaking the restrictions were stiffened on Sunday to up to three months in prison with a possible fine of 1,300 dirhams (about $135), according to a statement by the official MAP news agency.

The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Morocco reached 115 on Sunday, including four fatalities, while three people have recovered, according to official figures.

Images circulating on social media showed the sometimes heavy-handed arrest of those not abiding by orders.

Around 20 people have been arrested in recent days for spreading false information or calling for civil disobedience, the DGSN added.

Morocco last week suspended all commercial international flights "until further notice", although special trips were authorised to repatriate stranded foreigners.

The French embassy in Morocco said on Twitter that some 140 special flights had been organised to take over 25,000 people to France.

The UK, US and Canada also organised evacuation flights, local embassies said.

The US embassy, in a tweet Friday, had warned its citizens that Moroccan airspace would close indefinitely on Sunday morning.

A special provision allowing Moroccans to return from abroad ended on Sunday at 1100 GMT, a foreign ministry statement said.