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July 14, 2002
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The people of Morocco made history this weekend, taking part in the first-ever public royal wedding festivities to be held in the North African country. Three days of celebrations saw thousands lining the streets to honour King Mohammad VI and his new wife, 24-year-old computer engineer Lalla Salma Bennani – an event previously unheard of in a region where commoners had, until now, never been able to see a royal bride.

Ceremonies to celebrate the couple’s March nuptials began Friday night in the capital city of Rabat, where streets had been strewn with flowers, flags and mammoth photos of the king in preparation for the landmark occasion. Fourteen hundred horsemen took to the city’s streets, while concerts were held in the outskirts of the city and a fireworks display topped off the night.

Royal guards on horseback launched Saturday’s main event, a music and dance-filled parade which wound from a gate in the city’s old wall to the royal palace. Representatives from all of Morocco’s provinces took part in the procession, and many balanced ornate containers full of traditional bridal gifts, such as sandalwood, dates and perfume, on their heads.

The king viewed the colourful cavalcade from a throne in front of the royal estate, and was joined by 1,500 guests, including former US President Bill Clinton and his daughter Chelsea, who were seated nearby.

Though the wedding made news for breaking some traditions – for example, photos of Lalla Salma had been released when no other wife of a king had ever been presented publicly – one custom kept the bride from Saturday’s celebrations. The new princess was busy having her hands and feet decorated with henna, a Moroccan ritual passed down for centuries.

The flame-haired bride made an appearance later that night inside the palace, ceremoniously carried into the hall on a palanquin as she was presented to guests.

And the party itself was not just a royal affair – 200 other couples were invited by the king to celebrate their marriages as well. “We could have had a family wedding, but this way we’ll be part of a big occasion,” one non-royal bride, Owataf Errachidi, told the BBC. “We’ll never get another chance like it – to see the king, the royal family, and all the guests from abroad – it’s very special.”

One foreign guest who was not in attendance, however, was Spain’s ambassador to Morocco, Elias Salgado. The foreign envoy boycotted the event due to the occupation of the tiny island of Perejil, regarded as Spanish for centuries, by a dozen Moroccan soldiers on Thursday. The European Union has expressed solidarity with Spain, saying the incident is “clearly a violation of Spanish territory”.

The Moroccan government has insisted it has “every right” to be on the uninhabited land, and its decision to stake out the island as an immigration observation post was “neither a provocation nor a threat towards Spain”.

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Photo: ©
King Mohammad VI married 24-year-old computer engineer Lalla Salma Bennani in March, but lavish public festivities to honour the couple were held this past weekend after being delayed due to unrest in the Middle East Photo: © AFP
Photo: ©
Former US President Bill Clinton and his daughter Chelsea were two of the 1,500 guests at the three-day celebrations held in Morocco's captial city, Rabat Photo: © AFP
Photo: ©
Honour guards on horseback led a music and dance-filled parade which wound from a gate in Rabat's old wall to the royal palace Photo: © AFP

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