Miners' protest raises political temperature in Morocco

RABAT/MARRAKECH - Moroccans risking their lives scraping coal from abandoned mines have listened to local officials, the mining ministry and a close royal ally since they began protesting five weeks ago. Now some of them want the king himself to intervene.

"When they closed the mines they offered us new jobs and compensation but nothing has happened," said one former miner in the northern town of Jerada who declined to be named, fearing reprisal.

"We will keep protesting until our lives improve."

The miners have been left behind by the economic liberalization that won plaudits from the International Monetary Fund at a regional conference in Marrakech this week headlined "Opportunity for all."

King Mohammed VI, the ultimate power in Morocco, has lifted living standards in urban and coastal areas and raised the country's profile abroad, rolling out investment in Ivory Coast and other sub-Saharan countries.

But public dissatisfaction is growing in some poor areas at a time when the government is implementing currency reforms and cutting subsidies to drive economic growth.

The Jerada protests have found common cause with dissent that has rumbled since 2016 in the Rif, also in the north, both groups spurred by the deaths of men desperate trying to make ends meet.

They are a far cry from the mass protests which rocked the North African country in 2011 when uprisings ousted rulers in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, but pose a challenge to a constitutional monarchy in which the king has far-reaching powers.

Stability in Morocco is important for Western governments as it is the only country in North Africa where jihadist groups have failed to gain a foothold. Rabat is also a key intelligence-sharing partner on Islamist militancy.

At least 10 million people visit its beaches and cities each year, some of them switching from Egypt and Tunisia after those countries suffered political turmoil and militant attacks.