Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Morocco's king fires ministers over slow progress



Morocco's King Mohammed VI has fired ministers and top government officials following alleged delays in development programs to benefit an impoverished northern region that has seen protests for the past year.

The royal palace said in a statement Tuesday that the ministers of education, health and housing, and a junior minister of professional training were ousted after the king received a report on the mountainous Rif region by the kingdom's accounting office.

The auditors' report found that "several sectors of government and public institutions" haven't fulfilled their commitments in implementing development projects worth nearly $700 million.

The firings came days before the anniversary of the death of a local vendor who was crushed in a garbage truck while trying to retrieve fish seized by police. His death prompted a protest movement.

The protests erupted in the Rif region around the northern city of Al-Hoceima last October.

The man's crushing to death in a garbage truck during a confrontation with police became a symbol of corruption and official abuse.

Protests, also fuelled by economic underdevelopment, continued there this year.

Political protests are rare in Morocco, where the palace remains the ultimate power.

The protests, the largest in Morocco since the days of the 2011 "Arab Spring", were directed at the government and the king's entourage rather than the monarch himself.

The king's move came as protest leader Nasser Zefzafi and 29 others accused of organising demonstrations in the northern region went on trial in Casablanca.

They face charges ranging from conspiring against the state to protesting without authorisation. Zefzaki's lawyer told Reuters he could be sentenced to death in a worst-case scenario.

The judge adjourned the session until Oct 31. Zefzaki's supporters protested in front of the court while some 70 lawyers attended the trial.

The protest movement was born after Fikri's death.

Police confiscated fish they said he had bought illegally and dumped it in a garbage truck.

Desperate to recover his stock, Fikri jumped inside and was killed by a rubbish crusher.

In July the king pardoned dozens of people arrested in the protests and blamed the failure of local officials to quickly implement development projects for stoking public anger.

AP/Reuters
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