Morocco authorities vow to close Jerada's abandoned mines
OUJDA - Moroccan authorities have promised to close all abandoned mines in Jerada after months of social unrest in the former mining town in the country's northeast.
"There are more than 3,200 wells in Jerada, but only 200 to 300 are active. The others, which are abandoned and present a clear danger, will all be closed," said Abderrazzak El Gourji, secretary general of the region's police headquarters, in an interview with AFP.
Jerada has seen waves of peaceful demonstrations since the deaths in December of two brothers trapped in an abandoned mine shaft, as they tried to illegally mine coal.
Two additional deaths under similar circumstances sparked anger and indignation among residents in the economically devastated town, which official statistics rank among the poorest in the kingdom.
Protesters have demanded "economic alternatives" to "death mines", from which hundreds of miners have struggled to make a living despite their closure in the late 1990s.
Protesters have also lambasted the "coal barons", local notables who are mostly elected officials and have permits to resell coal taken from closed mines.
Gourgi said all the sales permits had been withdrawn from the so-called "barons", although they have not been investigated.
- 'Development' -
He said a development programme for the region would see 3,000 hectares (7,400 acres) of land set aside for agricultural projects as well as the construction of a new industrial zone.
"All promises are realistic and achievable, and what was not achievable was rejected... it's easy to calm people with promises, but tomorrow you have to implement it," said Gourgi.
According to him, the development measures announced by the government in February were "welcomed" by political parties, local representatives, local and protest leaders.
"But there were people among the (protesters) who never sought a solution, who never tried to sit around a table... nihilists who reject all proposals," he added, speaking at his office in the town of Oujda.
The action plan had allowed for a brief lull in protests, but demonstrators returned to the streets at the end of February demanding "concrete answers".
Demonstrations resumed again earlier this month after authorities arrested protest leaders, prompting the ministry of interior to ban all "illegal demonstrations" in the poverty-stricken town of 43,000 people.
Violent clashes on Wednesday last week left more than 300 police officers and 32 demonstrators injured, according to Gourgi.
Activists did not give their own figures, likely wary of a recent decision by the ministry of interior to prosecute authors of "fake news" who denounce police violence on social media.
On Friday, Jerada residents organised a mass march without any incident, and said further actions were planned for the coming days.