Friday 15 December 2017

Relatives mourn Morocco stampede victims

Relatives mourn Morocco stampede victims
(AFP (eng) 11/21/17)

Mourning relatives on Monday started burying the victims of a stampede that killed 15 women during a food aid delivery near the popular tourist town of Essaouira on Morocco's coast.

"It's a tragedy," said the husband of one of the victims, breaking down in tears after burying her.

Hundreds of women had gathered on Sunday at a marketplace in the village of Sidi Boulaalam, around 60 kilometres (35 miles) northeast of Essaouira, for an annual distribution of food aid organised by a benefactor from the region.

A witness told AFP that people had pushed and broken down barriers as they fought for food.

"If you fall, it's over for you and you get trampled on," one survivor said, speaking from a hospital bed.

"Nobody came to our aid, everyone was shouting for help," she added.

Authorities have launched a probe into the tragedy, which also left 10 women injured.

At the morgue of Essaouira's hospital, the scent of incense barely covered the stench of corpses wrapped in blankets.

Mohamed, a forensic doctor from Essaouira who preferred not to give his last name, said the bodies were "in a sorry state".

"They had severe fractures, huge bruises on the body," he said.

The families of the dead came to identify their relatives as ambulances waited to take the bodies away for burial.

"I hardly recognised my mother," said Mjid, a son of one of the victims.

Habiba, a woman bundled up in a pink djellaba robe, a veil over her hair, said she had lost her big sister in the crush.

- 'People here are needy' -

"She came to get oil and flour, but there were too many people. She fell and was trampled on," the 57-year-old said.

The press and social media users have blamed Morocco's glaring social and regional inequalities for the accident, calling it a "two-speed country".

News website Medias 24 blamed poverty for the crush, calling it an "unprecedented tragedy".

"People here are needy, there is no agriculture, no work," Mjid said.

He moved from Sidi Boulaalam to commercial capital Casablanca as a young man, leaving behind a village of 8,000 people eking out a meagre living from their livestock, far from the developed infrastructure of Morocco's main cities.

Late Monday, more than 100 people gathered in the main square in Essaouira to show their solidarity with the victims of the stampede and to denounce "the stigmatisation of the poor".

King Mohammed VI gave instructions for better security in the future when aid is distributed to the needy, the interior ministry said.

Provincial officials said arrangements had been made for the aid delivery on Sunday, but "the crowd exceeded estimates".

Khalid Azourar, a member of a local NGO, blamed the accident on a lack of organisation.

"Poverty is in people's minds," he said. "People do not know how to respect a queue".

An official report in early October slammed severe poverty in rural areas of Morocco.

Medias 24 said Sidi Boulaalam was "one of the poorest" villages in the country.

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