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Morocco king urges party to stay on

13 May 2013, 08:30

Rabat - King Mohammed V of Morocco has urged the conservative Istiqlal party to go back on a decision to pull out from the Islamist-led government, a spokesperson for the party said on Sunday.

Istiqlal's national council, the main ally of the ruling Islamists, announced on Saturday it was pulling out of the government over its failure to shore up the economy and solve dire social issues in Morocco.

Overnight the king, who is on a private visit abroad, telephoned Istiqlal party chief Hamid Chabat "to exhort him to keep our ministers in the government," party spokesperson Adil Benhamza told AFP.

"We will ask our ministers to carry on with current affairs until the king returns home," he added.

Istiqlal holds several ministerial portfolios including education and the economy and its decision to quit the cabinet could mean a general election or a cabinet reshuffle by the government headed by the moderate Islamist Party of Justice and Development (PJD).

On Saturday, Istiqlal's national council criticised the Islamist head of the government, Abdelilah Benkirane, for failing to take "into consideration the gravity of the social and economic situation".

Istiqlal also said Benkirane, head of the PJD, was "monopolising decisions at the centre of government".

But after the telephone conversation between the king and Chabat, Istiqlal said in a new statement that its executive committee has taken note of this "extremely important development".

The party "totally adheres to royal wish to guarantee conditions of stability and to serve the higher interests of the nation," it added.

Morocco is grappling with an economic crisis linked to the problems in Europe, its top trade partner, amid widespread poverty, rising prices and youth unemployment estimated to be as high as 30%, which causes near-daily protests in the capital.

Faced with a budget deficit last year that reached 7% of GDP, the government is attempting to push through delicate reforms, including on costly pensions and subsidies that it can no longer afford.

At the end of March thousands of people marched through the Moroccan capital, Rabat, to protest against unemployment and the cost of living and thousands demonstrated again on May Day.

The PJD, which has led the government since it dominated elections in late 2011, will have to find a new ally in government to replace Istiqlal if it wishes to avoid a new vote.



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