Tens of thousands of Moroccans have taken to the streets of Casablanca in protests against the government’s failure to tackle unemployment and other social woes.
Sunday’s rally, which is believed to be the largest opposition protest since a new government took office, was organised by trade unions.
They accuse Abdelilah Benkirane, the prime minister of failing to deliver on the pledges of social justice that brought his party to power in November.
"There are more than 50,000 people who are demonstrating to call on the government to start a genuine dialogue addressing our country's social ills," opposition Socialist MP Hassan Tariq said.
"The trade unions are united and the message to the Benkirane government is clear: he needs to change his strategy," Tariq told the AFP news agency.
Union leaders have been appealing to the government for talks on improving salaries and social conditions in a country where almost half of people aged between 15 and 29 are neither working nor in school, according to a World Bank report issued this month.
Morocco's government is grappling with a crisis caused by drought and a sharp slide in tourism revenues, the country's largest source of income along with transfers by Moroccans abroad and phosphate exports.
Failure to deliver
The ensuing November 2011 election saw the Justice and Development Party -- a moderate Islamist party -- win the most seats and head a coalition government.
It had pledged to address the protest movement's grievances and fight for more social justice in a country mired by high unemployment and illiteracy rates.
But less than six months after it was sworn in, Benkirane is facing renewed discontent from protesters who see no change.
"Benkirane and Fouad Ali El Himma are two sides of the same coin," was one slogan chanted in the streets of Casablanca, referring to the king's closest advisor.
In April, parliament adopted a 2012 budget that trims the public deficit but continues efforts to reinforce social spending.
It foresees a public deficit at 5.0 per cent of gross domestic product this year, down from over 6.0 per cent last year as the previous government splurged on subsidies, notably on food, to defuse the growing protest movement.
Nizar Baraka, the finance minister, has said the country's economy would likely grow by around 3.0 per cent this year, less than the 4.2 per cent forecast in the budget because of the drought and the debt crisis in the eurozone, which is Morocco's biggest trade partner.
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|Allen L. Jasson|
|William A. Cook|