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Soldiers Patrol Moroccan Cities Following Rioting

December 16, 1990

RABAT, Morocco (AP) _ Soldiers patrolled major cities Sunday following two days of rioting prompted by demands for higher wages, and government opponents insisted the death toll was higher than the official figure of five.

Unconfirmed claims from union leaders and human rights groups asserted that anywhere from 25 to more than 100 people had been killed in the city of Fez.

The government said rioting Friday in Fez killed five people, including a policeman, and injured 127 people, mostly police. A hospital supervisor in Fez, Dr. Hassan Houari, said Sunday the government figures were accurate.

Scores of people were reported injured in other cities during a nationwide, one-day general strike Friday to demand higher wages.

The violence continued in Fez on Saturday with arson attacks on vehicles and a police station, but there were no reports of renewed clashes.

Major cities were reported calm but uneasy Sunday, with security forces deployed at major intersections and guarding public buildings. In Fez, charred buses lay in the streets and soldiers in armored vehicles patrolled areas where looting had occurred.

A few minor disturbances, including stone-throwing and spontaneous demonstrations, were reported in Fez and Rabat late Saturday and early Sunday.

In Paris, human rights groups that monitor events in Morocco claimed the death toll was far higher than the government figure.

One of them, The Action Committee for the Liberation of Moroccan Political Prisoners, said 80 people were killed and about 1,000 arrested. The government reported 210 arrests.

The unions which organized the general strike vowed to combat ″government terrorism.″ They said the violence resulted because security forces ″resorted to intimidation, provocation and repression.″

The government, however, said police in Fez suffered heavy casualties because they exercised restraint, using warning shots, tear gas and clubs to disperse rioters.

Authorities said a policeman was fatally stabbed when his unit was surrounded by rioters, and a civilian was crushed to death by stampeding protesters during a police charge.

Fez, the religious and intellectual center of Morocco, suffered extensive damage from looting and arson. The national news agency, MAP, said looters armed with chains and iron bars ransacked jewelry stores, banks and public buildings.

The rioters set about 50 buses and cars on fire and burned the deluxe Merindes Hotel, the agency said. It said some rioters reached a lounge on the fifth floor of the hotel and carried off the stocks of liquor.

The unions claimed 80 percent of workers observed the strike call. The government, which had tried to ban the strike, said only a handful of businesses and factories were affected.

But authorities confirmed the strike was widely observed on university campuses, where at least 40 percent of classes were canceled.

The estimated 20,000 protesters in Fez included many university students and other youths. According to official figures, the unemployment rate for Moroccans under 21 has risen to 31 percent, compared with an overall rate of 16 percent.

Al-Bayane, a Communist opposition newspaper, said Sunday that hotels and luxury shops were attacked because young demonstrators resented a widening gap between Morocco’s rich and poor.

″Government policy has given Morocco an image of crisis and grave weakness,″ Al-Bayane said. ″It’s high time for change.″

Thousands of workers who took part in general strikes in 1979 and 1981 were fired or arrested. The 1981 strike led to riots in Casablanca in which at least 66 people were killed.

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