March 14, 2018 / 11:41 PM / 6 months ago

Moroccan protesters clash with police in poor mining town

(This March 14 story has been corrected to make clear that women said teargas had been used)

By Zakia Abdennebi

RABAT (Reuters) - Moroccan protesters on Wednesday clashed with security forces in a poor mining town where residents have been demanding government help to tackle poverty, officials and activists said.

The town of Jerada in the remote northeast has seen protests since two artisan miners were killed in an accident in December but demonstrations calling for state aid and alternative jobs had remained peaceful until now.

On Wednesday, protesters set five police cars on fire and clashed with police, a local official said. An unspecified number of policemen were wounded and brought to a hospital in Oujda, the main city in the northeast, a statement said.

Nine persons had been detained, officials said.

An activist in Jerada said residents had staged a sit-in against a statement by interior ministry on Tuesday that had warned it was ready to act decisively unless the protests stopped.

Female residents said there had been teargas and smoke, according to a video posted on social media purportedly showing the clashes. No more details were immediately available.

Some 500 security had surrounded the protest which had led to the violence, the activist said by phone, asking not to be named.

Residents say the town has been neglected since the mines closed some 20 years ago, part of growing public dissatisfaction in some poor areas at a time when the government is implementing currency reforms and cutting subsidies to drive economic growth.

The Jerada protests have found common cause with dissent that has rumbled since 2016 in the Rif, also in the north and making economic and political demands.

They are a far cry from the mass protests which rocked the North African country in 2011 when uprisings ousted rulers in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, but pose a challenge to a constitutional monarchy in which the king has far-reaching powers.

Stability in Morocco is important for Western governments as it is the only country in North Africa where jihadist groups have failed to gain a foothold. Rabat is also a key intelligence-sharing partner on Islamist militancy.

Writing by Ulf Laessing; Editing by Chris Reese

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