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Morocco responds to 'black bread' protests in the struggling north

Demonstrators hold placards as they gather to protest after two miners died while working in a coal mine in Jerada, Morocco on 29 December 2017 [Jalal Morchidi/Anadolu Agency]

The Moroccan government promised on Thursday to set up a "new development plan" for the country's north-east region nearly two weeks after protests against the local political elites started in the city of Jerada.

The government has said that it wants to commit to "a new participatory development plan to create jobs" and establish "a new map of mining resources." The region has been plunged into an economic slump since the closure of most mines in the late 1990s.

Energy Minister Aziz Rebbah was sent to Jerada to defuse the tension. Locals have been demonstrating since 22 December after the accidental death of two miners in an underground coal sump.

A social movement called "Walk of the black bread" has been organised, calling on the government to do more to help develop the struggling city. The government responded yesterday and assured residents that "the call of Jerada was heard."

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In the government statement, the Ministry of Energy welcomed "favourably the demands of the population of Jerada" and commits to put in place "a precise work plan" to "improve the economic and social situation of the province."

A series of "immediate measures" will be introduced to meet certain demands of the movement, which include the amount of water accessed and electricity bills for which the government has promised a review of the outstanding payments.

In response to accusations that elected officials are suspected of operating closed coal mines illegally, the government has promised to "strengthen the control of the holders of exploitation permits" and that the measures are envisaged to "improve the economic conditions of workers by guaranteeing their safety."

The region has failed to recover since the closure of the anthracite mine in 1998 which employed up to 9,000 miners. "People are demanding an economic alternative beyond the mine," explained Said Zeroual, a member of the local chapter of the Moroccan Association for Human Rights (AMDH).

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