RABAT Nov 21 Moroccan police with batons broke
up a protest by more than a thousand unemployed graduates in
central Rabat on Wednesday, the second protest this week before
parliament votes on the first part of the 2013 budget.
Public finances are in dire straits in the North African
country of 33 million people due largely to the euro zone's
financial crisis. Europe is Morocco's main economic partner.
Increased social spending last year that helped to contain
Arab Spring protests has also put a squeeze on the budget.
Stability in North Africa has become a Western concern
because of the spread of Islamist militants in Sahel countries
of the southern Sahara such as Mali, as well as kidnappings and
illegal migration across the Mediterranean into Europe.
Leftist and Islamist graduates protested in different groups
of several hundred each in the area around the Moroccan
parliament, in an apparent effort to outwit police who prevented
protesters gathering outside the parliament building on Sunday.
The graduates said the government had broken promises made
in the past year.
"We want jobs," said protester Hicham el-Hachemi. "We got a
written promise and the attention of the government, so we are
here to push them to take us into consideration."
Protesters chanted "The people want the fall of the
government" and "People, rise against the dictatorial regime"
outside parliament before police ran towards them to make them
The crowd also chanted its disapproval over residents of
Western Sahara being given jobs seen as pay-offs for loyalty to
Morocco, whose control of the sparsely populated territory to
the south is challenged by the Algerian-backed Polisario Front.
"If the government doesn't respond, we will unify all the
jobless and organise a massive protest," said Mohamed Amine
Sekkal, one of the organisers of the protest.
Small protests have become a common occurence in Rabat but
have picked up this week ahead of the budget vote on Thursday.
On Sunday police used force to break up a rare protest
against the size of King Mohammed's royal expenditures.
Last year the king reacted swiftly with constitutional
changes after Morocco saw large-scale protests for political and
economic reforms following uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia.
But King Mohammed, who bases much of his legitimacy on his
Islamic credentials as "Commander of the Faithful" and
descendant of the Prophet Mohammad, retains wide powers.
Under the new constitution he keeps control of military,
security and religious affairs, while parliament legislates and
the government runs the country.
Anger over rising prices, unemployment and wealth
distribution is prevalent in a country where a quarter of the
population live in poverty. The government puts unemployment at
about 9 percent but it is thought to be much higher among
Morocco projects 4.5 percent economic growth for 2013, and a
reduction in its budget deficit to 4.8 percent of gross domestic
product from 5 percent forecast by the government for this year.