Morocco king urges ‘urgent action’ on social problems

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This handout picture released by the Moroccan Royal Palace shows Morocco's King Mohammed VI (C) delivering a speech to mark the 19th anniversary of his accession to the throne, beside his brother Prince Moulay Rachid (R) and son Hassan III, in Al Hoceima on July 29, 2018. / AFP PHOTO / Moroccan Royal Palace / Handout / RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - MANDATORY CREDIT
This handout picture released by the Moroccan Royal Palace shows Morocco's King Mohammed VI (C) delivering a speech to mark the 19th anniversary of his accession to the throne, beside his brother Prince Moulay Rachid (R) and son Hassan III, in Al Hoceima on July 29, 2018. / AFP PHOTO / Moroccan Royal Palace / Handout / RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - MANDATORY CREDIT "AFP PHOTO / MOROCCAN ROYAL PALACE" - NO MARKETING NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS - DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS

Morocco’s King Mohammed VI Sunday urged the government to take “urgent action” to address social issues, in particular health and education in the north African country which has been hit by protests over employment and corruption.

Despite the “achievements accomplished (…) I have the feeling that we continue to be lacking something in social matters,” the king said in a speech marking the 19th anniversary of his accession to the throne.

Mohammed VI pointed to social support and social protection programmes that “overlap each other, suffer from a lack of consistency and fail to effectively target eligible groups”.

Morocco is marked by glaring social and territorial inequalities, against a backdrop of high unemployment among young people. In 2017, it was ranked 123rd out of 188 countries on the Human Development Index.

In his speech, the king called for accelerating the establishment of a national system to register families for social support programmes and invited the government to “undertake a comprehensive and deep restructuring” of existing programmes.

He also called for “a strong boost to programmes to support schooling” and a reshaping of the health system, which “is characterised by glaring inequalities and weak management.”

The king’s speech was delivered in the northern city of Al-Hoceima which was the epicentre of the “Hirak” protest movement that rocked the country in 2016 and 2017.

The social unrest began in October 2016 after the death of a fisherman and spiralled into a wave of protests demanding more development in the neglected Rif region and railing against corruption and unemployment.

Over the past week Moroccan media have said they expect a royal pardon for dozens of demonstrators and activists who were sentenced in late June to up to 20 years in prison.

The 54-year-old monarch made no reference to the protests in his speech.

Afterwards, an official statement said 1,200 pardons were granted, without specifying if the jailed demonstrators were among them. Moroccan media said none of the “Hirak” protestors was pardoned.