Moroccan army promised better deal after protests

Reuters News
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Posted: Feb 07, 2012 5:34 PM
Moroccan army promised better deal after protests

By Souhail Karam

RABAT (Reuters) - Morocco's King Mohammed promised Tuesday to improve conditions for serving and retired military personnel following veterans' protests and recent cases of soldiers burning themselves to death.

A cabinet meeting chaired by the king adopted a draft law "defining, clarifying and strengthening basic guarantees for the military" and covering soldiers' legal, material and social rights, a statement carried by the official MAP news agency said.

Last week a soldier died after setting himself on fire in protest at a lack of housing, one week after an army veteran killed himself in the same way.

A 2008 U.S. diplomatic cable, leaked by Wikileaks, described Morocco's army as being plagued by corruption, an inefficient bureaucracy, poor education, and vulnerable to radicalization within its ranks.

The king retains control over the 190,000-strong force, although under reforms designed to soften protests triggered by last year's Arab Spring, he devolved some powers to parliament and the government.

Most of the army are deployed in Western Sahara, a former Spanish colony the size of Britain which Morocco annexed in 1975. Rabat's move on the territory, home to almost 400,000 people, is still disputed by independence movement Polisario, though the two sides signed a cease-fire in 1991.

Several hundred retired soldiers who were held prisoner by Polisario for several years set up a protest camp outside parliament last year to complain about poor pensions.

Poverty affects around a quarter of Morocco's 33 million people and there are persistent grievances about inefficient education and widespread corruption.

Riots over unemployment and poor access to basic amenities have multiplied, and cases of self-immolation have spiraled in the past year, inspired by Mohammad Bouazizi, the Tunisian vegetable seller whose suicide sparked the protests that toppled that country's autocratic regime.

(Editing by Ben Harding)