Anger boils in Morocco's earthquake zone as protesters demand promised emergency aid

AMIZMIZ, Morocco (AP) — Hundreds of protesters on Tuesday took to the streets of a city near the epicenter of a devastating earthquake that hit Morocco last month to express anger and frustration after weeks of waiting for emergency assistance.

Flanked by honking cars and motorcycles, demonstrators in the High Atlas town of Amizmiz chanted against the government as law enforcement tried to contain the crowds. The protest followed a worker’s strike and torrential weekend storms that exacerbated hardship for residents living in tents near the remains of their former homes.

“Amizmiz is down!" men yelled in Tachelhit, Morocco’s most widely spoken Indigenous language.

Entire neighborhoods were leveled by the Sept. 8 quake, forcing thousands to relocate to temporary shelters. In Amizmiz and the surrounding villages of Morocco's Al Haouz province, nearly everyone lost a family member or friend.

Tuesday's protest was initially organized by a group called Amizmiz Earthquake Victims’ Coordination to draw attention to “negligence by local and regional officials" and to denounce how some residents had been excluded from emergency aid.

“The state of the camps is catastrophic,” Mohamed Belhassan, the coordinator of the group told the Moroccan news site Hespress.

The group, however, called off its planned march after meeting with local authorities who ultimately pledged to address their concerns. Despite the organizers' cancellation, hundreds still swarmed the streets to protest the conditions.

Protesters waved Moroccan flags and directed their anger toward the way local authorities, saying they had failed to provide the emergency assistance announced by Moroccan King Mohammed VI's Royal Cabinet. They chanted “Long Live the King” but implored him to visit Amizmiz to check on how local authorities were carrying out his decrees. They protested about a need for dignity and justice, decrying years of marginalization.

In the earthquake's aftermath, Morocco convened a commission and formed a special recovery fund. The government announced earlier this month that it had begun disbursing initial monthly payments of 2,500 Moroccan dirhams ($242) and planned to later provide up to 140,000 dirhams ($13,600) to rebuild destroyed homes.

Residents of Amizmiz told The Associated Press earlier this month that although many had given authorities their contact information, most households had not yet received emergency cash assistance. In Amizmiz, which had 14,299 residents according to Morocco's most recent census, many worry about shelter as winter in the Atlas Mountains approaches.

A trailer-based banking unit began operating in the town square in the aftermath of the earthquake. Local officials collected phone numbers to send banking codes to allow residents to get their cash. For many, the subsequent delays were the final straw, Belhassan told Hespress.

The Amizmiz protest over delays in aid comes after Morocco faced criticism for accepting limited help from only four foreign governments several days after the earthquake killed a reported 2,901 people.

Officials said the decision was intended to prevent clogged roads and chaos in days critical for emergency response. Search and rescue crews unable to reach the country expressed frustration for not getting the green light from the Moroccan government.