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Morocco police break up rare protest over claims king 'squandered' budget

Ali Jarekji / Reuters, file

Morocco's King Mohammed reviews Bedouin honour guards upon his arrival at the Royal Palace in Amman Oct.18.

RABAT, Morocco -- Moroccan police on Sunday broke up the first street protest against spending by King Mohammed, witnesses said.

They said police with truncheons ended a rally outside parliament by a few dozen Moroccans, kicking and beating protesters including Abdelhamid Amine, the head of the Moroccan Human Rights Association. The police said the demonstration was not licensed.

The activists were angry over the size of the monarchy's expenditure in the national budget as the country faces economic difficulties.

"Shame on you, you have squandered the budget," protesters chanted, addressing themselves to the government. Others carried shopping bags with holes punched through them to indicate lower spending power among average Moroccans.

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Public finances are in dire straits in the North African country of 33 million people because of the financial crisis in the European Union, Morocco's main economic partner.

Increased social spending last year that helped to contain Arab Spring protests has also put a squeeze on the budget.

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"We wanted to protest over the parliamentary debate on the 2013 budget and royal expenditures, which are actually rising while the country goes through a financial crisis," Amine said later. "But it seems that their method of discussion is beating people up."

Last year the king reacted swiftly with some constitutional reforms after Morocco saw large-scale protests following uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia.

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But King Mohammed retains wide powers. Under the new constitution the king, who bases much of his legitimacy on his Islamic credentials as "Commander of the Faithful" and as a descendant of the Prophet Mohammad, keeps control of military, security and religious affairs, while parliament legislates and the government runs the country.

Anger over rising prices, unemployment and wealth distribution remains in a country where around a quarter of the population live in poverty.

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