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UPDATE 1-Morocco withdraws accreditation from AFP reporter

(Updates with official comment)

By Souhail Karam

RABAT, Oct 5 (Reuters) - The Moroccan government said onFriday it was withdrawing the accreditation of an AgenceFrance-Presse (AFP) correspondent, accusing him of casting doubton the monarchy's neutrality in an election.

In a statement carried by state media, the governmentaccused Omar Brouksy of "unprofessional" reporting on Thursday'svote in Tangier, a re-run after a parliamentary election lastyear.

"AFP conveyed allegations that involved the monarchy in thiselection, which took place in a transparent environment, therebyundermining its neutrality and role as arbitrator that sitsabove any electoral competition between political parties," itsaid.

A senior government official said AFP had published a storyon election day that said the poll in Tangier pitted moderateIslamists of the Justice and Development Party (PJD) against"candidates close to the monarchy".

"We consider this to be a serious professional error ... tofalsely involve the monarchy in an election race on the day itwas taking place. It sends a confusing message to voters," theofficial said.

AFP Global News Director Philippe Massonnet said: "Thereport in question had no motive other than to inform andprovide context, with no intention of harming anyonewhatsoever." He said AFP's Rabat bureau had "the full confidenceof the agency's management".

The French Foreign Ministry said France was in touch withMoroccan authorities over the issue.

In December, the PJD became the first Islamist party to leada Moroccan government after winning a parliamentary electionthat King Mohammed had brought forward to prevent any spilloverfrom the Arab Spring uprisings. It formed a coalition governmentwith three other parties.

RELIGIOUS SYMBOLS

The election results for Tangier were scrapped after the PJDwas accused of using religious symbols during its campaign. Thepoll was re-run on Thursday, and preliminary results had the PJDwinning two of the three seats.

The PJD's closest rival in Tangier is the secularAuthenticity and Modernity Party (PAM), set up in 2008 by FouadAli Himma to counter the rise of Islamist parties. Himma is nowan adviser to King Mohammed.

The official said AFP had later changed the wording of itsreport to say the candidates were from PAM, but the governmenthad already taken the decision to punish the news agency.

Himma, a former schoolfriend of the king, is regarded as themost influential figure after the monarch and a pillar of theMakhzen, a secretive court elite that has nominated someofficials and set major policies.

He quit PAM in May 2011 at the height of mass protestsdemanding political reform. After PJD's election win, KingMohammed appointed Himma as his adviser.

Morocco is ranked 138th in the 2011-2012 global PressFreedom Index of countries compiled by Reporters SansFrontieres. The state controls television, and outspokenpublications have been forced to close, mostly by what they callpolitical pressure on advertisers.

Brouksy, a Moroccan national, was manhandled and slightlyinjured by police last month as he covered a pro-democracyprotest in Rabat.

The government this week appointed a committee to draft anew media bill meant to give the press greater freedom.

(Reporting by Souhail Karam; editing by Andrew Roche and JanetLawrence)

((souhail.karam@thomsonreuters.com))

Keywords: MOROCCO AFP/