Thousands took to the streets of Rabat and Casablanca on Wednesday demanding jobs and higher pay during May Day demonstrations marked by tension, with a large security contingent deployed in the capital.
Several thousand people marched up Rabat’s central boulevard around midday, waving Moroccan and Berber flags, holding placards and chanting slogans, some of them strongly critical of the government.
Scuffles broke out as the demonstrators passed the parliament building, with riot police beating up and wounding some of the protesters.
“The people want the fall of the government!” shouted one group of unionists.
The workers union affiliated to the ruling Islamist Party of Justice and Development (PJD) called for an end to corruption and proclaimed its support for King Mohamed VI and Morocco’s ownership of the disputed Western Sahara.
More than 10,000 people also marched in Casablanca, Morocco’s largest city and economic capital, an AFP journalist reported.
Many of those participating in Wednesday’s demonstrations were unemployed graduates, or public sector employees demanding better working conditions.
“When the PJD came to power, they said they’d find a solution to the job crisis. But they’ve done nothing to help us,” said Mohamed Abdelmoneim, 27, who has been out of work since graduating last year.
For Abdelhamid Amine, a member of the UMT, one of Morocco’s largest unions, the demonstration was “a success for the working class and a repudiation of the government, which has made too many promises.”
Morocco is grappling with an economic crisis linked to the problems in Europe, its top trade partner, amid widespread poverty, rising prices and youth unemployment estimated to be as high as 30 percent, which causes near-daily protests in the capital.
Faced with a budget deficit last year that reached 7 percent of GDP, the government is attempting to push through delicate reforms, including on costly pensions and subsidies that it can no longer afford.
A round of talks at the weekend between Morocco’s main unions and the government were cancelled after several unions pulled out, raising political tensions ahead of the May Day rallies.
Thousands of people attended a protest in Rabat one month ago, called by union leaders, to protest against unemployment and the high cost of living, and denounce corruption, which the PJD vowed to eradicate in its election campaign but which remains endemic.
Thousands attend Morocco May Day rallies, demand jobs