Defiant Moroccans protest over water, power prices

Defiant Moroccans protest over water, power prices
Protesters shout slogans during a demonstration against the power utility company Amendis, for what demonstrators say are the company's high electricity bills, in Tangier November 7, 2015.
PHOTO: Reuters

TANGIER, Morocco - Hundreds of demonstrators took to the streets in the northern Moroccan city of Tangier on Saturday to protest over high prices for water and electricity, despite government assurances and calls to end the rallies.

Large-scale protests are rare in Morocco, where the king still holds sway. When pro-democracy unrest toppled leaders in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya in 2011, the palace calmed similar protests with limited reforms, spending and tougher security.

Saturday night's protest was the latest in a series of rallies that started three weeks ago. It took place days after authorities said the government was working with the French-owned company running the services to review the bills and called the city's population to stop protesting. "Shame, shame, they sold us out to colonialism," chanted the protesters as they marched through downtown Tangier.

Still, the rally was smaller than last week in Tangier when thousands protested in Morocco's largest street demonstration since the 2011 pro-democracy protests.

A statement from the government earlier this week warned"citizens to not follow those who want to make mischief". It also said the interior minister has given strict orders to the company to execute the bill review measures as soon as possible.

Water, wastewater and electricity businesses in the cities of Tangier and neighboring Tetouan have been operated since 2002 by Amendis, an affiliate of France's Veolia Environnement .

Redal, another Veolia subsidiary, is operating in the capital Rabat, Sale and the municipalities of Temara and Bouznika.

After the 2001 Arab Spring, an Islamist-led government took power for the first time in Morocco and made structural reforms, in particular in public finance, its top priority.

It started with reducing the cumbersome subsidies which led to rising prices of water and electricity.

Amedis has blamed the government's programme to rescue the state-run power utility that imposed a new pricing structure in 2014. It also pointed to peak power and water demand during the summer.

Last year, Moroccan local authorities blocked a deal by Veolia Environnement to sell its businesses in Morocco to investment fund Actis for about 370 million euros ($504 million) due to a dispute over investments.

Sources from the company and from the government said Veolia dropped the sale plan and convinced authorities to review the concession contracts. The review is yet to be approved by the local councils in cities where the company has been involved.

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