April 20, 2011 / 10:20 PM / in 7 years

Morocco promises auxiliary forces pay rise-minister

* Minister: Wage rise, housing planned for auxiliary forces

* Auxiliary force members number some 47,000

* Force is often deployed to tame protests, riots

By Souhail Karam

RABAT, April 20 (Reuters) - Morocco will raise wages and ease access to housing for its auxiliary forces, a cabinet minister said on Wednesday, in a move set to further raise the public wage bill in the cash-strapped North African country.

The statement by Interior Minister Taib Cherkaoui follows similar steps by Rabat to prevent a spillover of popular revolt from Tunisia, Libya and Egypt after some of the largest anti-government protests the North African state has witnessed for decades.

Cherkaoui, quoted in remarks carried by the official MAP news agency, did not give more details on the plan.

Numbering around 47,000, Mokhaznis -- as the Auxiliary Force members are commonly known -- fall under the Interior Ministry. They are often deployed to tame protests and domestic unrest and can be called upon to support the army or paramilitary police.

The government is already in talks with unions over their demands of benefits and wage hikes for public civil servants worth 43 billion dirhams ($5.5 billion). For details, see [ID:nLDE7350UM]

Morocco, which unlike other Arab monarchies has no oil and natural gas of its own, almost doubled funds allocated to state subsidies in February to counter an increase in global commodities prices and rising food costs. [ID:nLDE71E1FZ]

The government has also promised jobs in the public sector for 4,300 graduates, a move set to cost at least 500 million dirhams per year, according to independent estimates.

For many Moroccans, Mokhaznis are seen as a mob of bruisers, troops who only know how to use the batons they are armed with.

Mokhaznis derive their name from “Makhzen,” the colloquial name for Morocco’s secretive and powerful elite within the royal court.

A government source said the new benefits for Mokhaznis have been under review since several months before the start of the unrest.

“It has been in the works since we raised the wages of the police force in April last year,” said the source who could not immediately comment about the total figure or give an estimate for the cost of the plan.

Some Mokhaznis have turned to social networking website Facebook to vent frustration at their poor pay and treatment by senior officers.

King Mohammed and his government are under mounting pressure to reform a political system critics say hands the monarch and his royal court too much power, sidelining elected officials. ($1=7.8 Moroccan dirham)

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