Government Pledges to Raise Salaries and Investigate Riots
RABAT, Morocco (AP) _ The government pledged Monday to raise salaries, improve social benefits and open a top-level investigation into rioting last week that began during a nationwide general strike.
Union officials and human rights groups insisted that the death toll from Friday’s riots was more than 30, but the government said only five people died. More than 200 people were injured.
Prime Minister Azeddine Laraki, in a statement to Parliament, pledged unspecified increases in salaries and social benefits. He said the government wanted to resume talks Tuesday with unions and management toward resolving nationwide labor disputes centered on demands for higher pay.
Laraki also announced that the government would form an inquiry commission composed of members of the executive branch and Parliament. He said the commission would be headed by the president of the Supreme Court, Mohamed Miko, and would investigate why the riots started and how they were handled.
Earlier in the day, opposition political parties on the right and left demanded an independent inquiry into the rioting in Fez and other cities. There was no immediate reaction to Laraki’s announcement.
In France, which ruled Morocco prior to independence in 1956, the governing Socialist Party accused Moroccan security forces of ″bloody and very harsh″ repression. The Socialists’ spokesman, Jean-Jack Queyrenne, blamed the riots on hunger and poverty.
Tension remained high in Fez and other cities Monday. Minor clashes were reported during the night in Rabat between security forces and young protesters. Police units in Fez were issued gas masks.
The two union federations that organized the general strike said Sunday they were prepared to call a new strike if their demands for higher wages and labor law reforms were not met.
Government opponents say the gap between rich and poor in Morocco has widened recently. Per capita income is about $800 per year, although there is a small strata of extremely rich industrialists. Unemployment among youths is believed about twice the official figure of 16 percent.
In Paris, representatives of one union said the latest available information indicated 33 people died in the riots. The influential Parisian newspaper Le Monde quoted sources in Fez as saying the death toll was about 40.
The worst violence was in Fez, but rioting also occurred in several other cities. Union officials claim two people were killed and 75 wounded Friday in Tangier.
Fez, the religious and intellectual center of Morocco, suffered extensive damage from looting and arson. Looters armed with chains and iron bars ransacked jewelry stores, banks and public buildings. Rioters also set about 50 buses and cars on fire, and burned the deluxe Merindes Hotel.
There were some arson attacks on Saturday but no rioting.
The government estimated damage in Fez at $15 million.
About 210 people were arrested over thee weekend, according to the government. Some began appearing in court on Monday.
A reporter from the French television channel TF1 was confronted by police while conducting an interview in Fez and ordered to leave the country, colleagues reported.