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RABAT (Reuters) - At least 1,000 protesters took to the streets of the Moroccan capital on Thursday to demand public sector jobs after a relative lull following the ousting of neighbour Tunisia's president by a popular uprising.
The protests resumed as the government's February 10 deadline expired for recruiting 4,500 highly-qualified graduates, Youssef Hdidou, who heads one of several groups of unemployed graduates, said.
"In a meeting with authorities on January 24, they asked us for a truce in the daily protests out of consideration for what they said was happening in the region," Hdidou told Reuters.
Authoritarian Arab leaders are watching carefully for signs of unrest spreading through the region after revolts in Tunisia and Egypt. But Credit rating agencies Standard & Poor's and Fitch have said Morocco is the least likely Maghreb state to be affected by the wave of popular unrest.
Before the protest began, Communication Minister Khalid Naciri said the government was showing "a lot of willingness" in trying to solve the issue of jobless graduates quickly.
Morocco witnesses at least 21 protests nationwide every day, he said. "We consider this to be a normal average ... It's an indicator that reassures us," Naciri told reporters.
Hdidou said an adviser of the prime minister and a senior official from Rabat's prefectorate asked the groups during a meeting on Thursday to defer the deadline to March 1.
"Leaders of the groups are discussing with members the next step. For us, this is just another empty promise. We are fed up of brutal interventions by the police and living far from home. It's not a dream for a Phd and master degree holder," he said.
The government has not been able to stimulate the agriculture-reliant economy enough to create even half the 250,000 private and public sector jobs it pledged to create annually in the five years to 2012, according to official data.
The 2011 budget envisages the creation of 18,700 jobs in the public sector.
Unemployment officially hovers around 9 percent, but is around 18 percent among graduates -- figures that independent analysts dispute as much higher.
Protests by jobless graduates had been a common sight in front of the parliament building in Rabat prior to the truce agreed in the wake of the overthrow of Tunisian President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali's regime.
State-controled television in Morocco has reported the unrest in Tunisia and Egypt with restraint, but many cafes have been tuning in to the Qatar-based satellite channel Al-Jazeera, which has covered the uprisings extensively in real time.
Moroccan media, including the official MAP news agency, have reported few attempts at self-immolation, apparently inspired by the Tunisian fruit seller whose public suicide triggered the Tunisian protests. No-one was reported to have died in the Moroccan attempts.