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Workers take Casablanca streets in anti-austerity fight

Police arrest pro-democracy protesters for 'denouncing the monarchy'

Thousands of teachers, civil servants and other workers marched through Casablanca yesterday to protest against austerity plans put in place by the Moroccan government.

During the march, police on motorcycles swooped down and arrested several pro-democracy activists who officers claimed were using the rally as an occasion to denounce the monarchy.

An estimated 8,000 people heeded the call from Morocco’s three main trade unions to demonstrate in the country’s economic capital, as relations between the labour movement and the government worsened.

“We demand the protection of our standard of living,” declared one sign carried by protesters.

“No to the raising the age of retirement,” said another, anticipating controversial plans for retirement benefits.

Faced with unrest in 2011, the previous government raised salaries and benefits, but the budget deficit rose to 7 per cent of GDP in 2012.

Under pressure from international lenders, the newly elected Islamist-led government of Prime Minister Abdelilah Benkirane was forced to end subsidies on petrol and reduce them on diesel.

But unions have opposed these measures, saying that they mainly hurt low-income groups.

“The government has been attacking our standard of living by raising petrol prices by 25 per cent in the last 15 months alone,” said Miloudi Moukharek, head of the Union of Moroccan Workers.

“Reform should not be carried out on the back of the poor.”

On Saturday, Mr Benkirane claimed to his supporters that the opposition parties were exploiting the trade union protests for their own ends.

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