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Kerry encourages Morocco on reforms, commercial ties

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry (L) shakes hands with Moroccan Foreign Minister Salaheddine Mezouar at a news conference following a bila
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry (L) shakes hands with Moroccan Foreign Minister Salaheddine Mezouar at a news conference following a bila

RABAT (Reuters) - U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Friday encouraged Morocco to push on with political and economic reforms as the United States looks to expand commercial ties with the only African country to enjoy a U.S. free trade deal.

While leaders in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya were toppled by Arab Spring revolts in 2011, Morocco weathered popular unrest by raising social spending, introducing limited constitutional reforms and bringing forward elections.

The North African kingdom has faced criticism over human rights, particularly press freedom, after bringing terrorism charges against a local journalist whose website posted a video by al Qaeda's regional affiliate.

Kerry arrived in Rabat late on Thursday for annual talks on strengthening economic, political and security ties, and praised the reform process already undertaken by the government in Morocco, where the king still holds wide powers.

"We want to make sure we are thoughtful and sensitive to that process, but obviously we want to make sure that we're working cooperatively and creatively" to help countries manage their transitions, he said.

Kerry spoke at length about individual freedoms, saying: "No politician can shut out the world, nobody has the ability to be able to tune it all out."

During his visit, Morocco's Foreign Minister Salaheddine Mezouar was asked by journalists about the case of Ali Anouzla, editor of the Lakome news website, who is being prosecuted under anti-terrorism laws.

He was arrested last September after his website posted a link of a video from al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, and is accused by Moroccan authorities of assisting a terrorist group.

Rights groups say the case violates press freedom, an allegation rejected by the minister. He said the government respected Anouzla as a "great journalist", but "the case is in the hands of justice."

(Reporting by Lesley Wroughton; editing by Patrick Markey and Mark Trevelyan)

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