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Morocco: Workers in abandoned mine town demand more state help

Demonstrators gather to protest for better working conditions in Jerada's coal mine on 5 January 2018 [Jalal Morchidi/Anadolu Agency]
Demonstrators gather to protest for better working conditions in Jerada's coal mine on 5 January 2018 [Jalal Morchidi/Anadolu Agency]

Moroccans are continuing their protests against officials demanding they give them new jobs following the closure of key mines in the city of Jerada.

Many are now calling for King Mohammed VI to personally intervene in their case. "When they closed the mines they offered us new jobs and compensation but nothing has happened," one former miner told Reuters. "We will keep protesting until our lives improve."

The miners say they have been abandoned by economic liberalisation that won plaudits from the International Monetary Fund at a regional conference held in Marrakech this week.

Speaking at the conference, Prime Minister Saadeddine Othmani said the government was rolling out programmes to remove inequalities in the region. "The government has made the same promises they made when closing the mines," according to Abdelghani Ajjani from a Jerada commission which is negotiating with authorities. "There are people here who think the King should visit Jerada."

The Moroccan King has tried to improve living standards in urban and coastal areas as well as the country's image abroad by increased investments in the Ivory Coast and other sub-Saharan countries.

Read: Large protest against trial of journalists in Moroccan 'right to publish' case

However dissatisfaction in poorer areas in the country is growing following a string of currency reforms and subsidy cuts.

Known as the "black bread protests", people have found common ground with protesters in the turbulent Rif region since 2016 spurred by the deaths of their kinsmen at the hands of local authorities.

Protests in Jerada, which have been ongoing for some time, were provoked further following the deaths of two brothers last year who drowned whilst looking for coal after they mistakenly broke through a water well.

Another miner was recently killed when a shaft collapsed according to the Interior Ministry. Activists then called for Jerada's residents to take to the streets.

Residents believe their town has been abandoned since the mines closed around 20 years ago amidst tension with neighbouring Algeria which forced the closure of the nearby border. According to miners, they are often exploited – they can sell a bag of coal for around $6.5 to $8.7 to traders who then pass it for much higher amounts to restaurants and hotels.

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

"Influential people exploit the miners, who have no other jobs, and officials know about this," local activist, Abdelwahab Hoummani, explained. "We demand jobs, development and the prosecution of corrupt people."

According to Mining Minister Aziz Rabbah last month, the state had "reacted positively" to the town's demands and a commission had been set up to pay compensation for those affected by the closed mines.

Police have reportedly set up checkpoints to monitor people's movements to and from Jerada where residents gather every week in the main square to demand state benefits aid and alternative jobs.

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