Moroccan unemployed graduates protest over budget cuts

Aziz El Yaakoubi

By Aziz El Yaakoubi

RABAT (Reuters) - Thousands of unemployed graduates marched through Morocco's capital Rabat on Sunday demanding jobs in the public sector, weeks before parliament is due to debate planned budget cuts.

Morocco's Islamist-led government, already under pressure from international lenders to reduce spending, is trying to push through sensitive cuts to state salaries and fuel and food subsidies.

Unemployed graduates have protested in small numbers for years, but Sunday's anti-austerity march was the first to bring together disparate groups including leftists, the Islamist opposition and union activists in such large numbers.

"We know the government plans more austerity cuts, but we have started to get the opposition's support. That would help us to apply more pressure," said Azougagh, a protest organizer.

Analysts say the government may be vulnerable in pushing its reforms because King Mohammed is keen to avoid a return to 2011 pro-democracy protests.

The palace stifled those protests with harsh policing, heavy public spending and limited constitutional reforms.

Prime Minister Abdelilah Benkirane of the Islamist Justice and Development party (PJD) is struggling to form a new government after a conservative junior coalition partner quit in July due partly to disagreements over the reforms.