Moroccan trainee teachers protest over grant cuts

Rabat (AFP) - Thousands of trainee teachers took to the streets of Morocco's capital on Sunday in protest at government decrees that would cut grants and affect their job prospects.

Representatives of the five major trade unions and youth activists joined the protesters who gathered in central Rabat before marching towards the education ministry and parliament, an AFP reporter said.

In July, the government adopted a decree more than halving the monthly grant for trainee teachers from around 2,454 dirhams (228 euros) to 1,200 dirhams.

A second decree stipulated that teacher trainees would no longer automatically qualify for an education ministry job once their training ends but would need first to sit an exam.

The decrees have sparked a wave of protests since October with trainee teachers -- who number 10,000 nationwide -- boycotting lectures and demanding that the government reverse its decisions.

The minimum monthly wage in Morocco's public sector is just 280 euros, according to official figures, while the World Bank says unemployment affects 30 percent of young people.

The New York-based Human Rights Watch group said police used force against demonstrators in several cities on January 7.

"Moroccan police attacked and beat peaceful teacher-trainee protesters... causing dozens of injuries," HRW said in a statement dated January 18.

"Some of the protesters had serious head injuries that required emergency medical attention," it added.

On Sunday, police cordoned off streets in Rabat and erected security barricades around the royal palace which is near the education ministry, witnesses said.

Protesters held placards accusing the prime minister and his interior and education ministers of "tyranny", and others urging "freedom, dignity and social justice".

Late Saturday, government representatives met trade union leaders to try to ease tensions but the government said it would not go back on its decisions, one teacher who attended the meeting told AFP.

Last year thousands of medical students also took to the streets to protest against a bill that would make it mandatory for graduates to work in the civil service for two years.