9 MAY 2003

King Mohammed VI of Morocco has been commemorating the arrival of his first son with lavish celebrations. There were huge parties throughout the North African country, and a 21-gun salute sounded from the royal compound in Rabat after the birth of Crown Prince Moulay Al Hassan.

The young royal has furthered his reputation as a modern monarch by releasing intimate photographs of himself holding baby Moulay. The doting father's decision to appear in such informal poses is in keeping with his commitment to a more contemporary approach to his role. Since he ascended to the throne in 1999, Mohammed has begun a courageous programme of reform to put an end to authoritarian rule in Morocco.

In 2002 he married Salma Bennani, a 25-year-old computer engineer from a middle class family, and immediately broke with tradition by giving her the title of princess. Until then it was customary for the king's wife to be known only as "mother of the princes" and she never appeared in public.

The 39-year-old ruler also marked his son's birth by ordering the release of 9,500 inmates from the country's prisons. Nearly 300 foreigners are among those to be set free and a further 38,000 prisoners are to have their sentences reduced.

Photo: ©
Photographs of the doting father with his new baby are further evidence of King Mohammed's unconventional approachPhoto: © AFP Click on photo to enlarge