Thousands have repeatedly filled the streets of Jerada, in northeastern Morocco, as a mounting protest movement demanding jobs and social development for the marginalized region was further fueled by a mining disaster that left two young brothers dead Dec. 22. The demonstrations started Dec. 12, with residents demanding lower electricity and water bills. But movement swelled after the deadly flood in a tunnel being dug by desperate locals at an abandoned coal pit in the mountains outside the town. The mine was for decades Jerada's economic lifeline, employing more than 9,000 people. After operations closed in the late 1990s many left the city. Those who stayed are struggling to survive—often by illegally taking coal from the abandoned pit, and selling it on the black market. Protesters accuse officials of turning a blind eye to the pirate mining despite the growing number of deaths in the improvised operations. They are demanding economic alternatives for the region, and government intervention to close "the mines of death."
"The whole city is observing a general strike." Said Zeroual of the Moroccan Association of Human Rights told AFP. The demonstrators have adopted the slogans of the al-Hirak al-Shaabi movement that staged a string of protests in the neighboring Rif region earlier this year. They are also flying Moroccan flags to signify that their protests are peaceful and to avoid being accused of separatism. Prime Minister Saad Eddine El Othmani is set to meet with Jerada's lawmakers to "discuss problems in the region." (Mining.com, Dec. 27; AFP, Dec. 25)