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Fifteen people killed in food aid stampede in Morocco

King recently dismissed several ministers after 'imbalances' were found in implementing development plan to fight poverty
Morocco's King Mohammed VI, centre, dines with French President Emmanuel Macron and his wife Brigitte in Rabat earlier this year (AFP)

Fifteen people were killed and five more injured when a stampede broke out in a southwestern Moroccan town on Sunday as food aid was being distributed in a market, the interior ministry said.

A hospital source put the death toll at 18, adding that most victims were women who had been scrambling for food handed out by a rich man in the small coastal town of Sidi Boulaalam.

A local journalist said the donor had organised similar handouts before, but this year about 1,000 people arrived, storming an iron barrier under which several women were crushed.

"This year there were lots of people, several hundred people," a witness, a doctor who asked to remain anonymous, told AFP.

"People shoved, they broke down the barriers," he said. 

"The local authorities on the spot were overwhelmed. Even when there were people on the ground, people kept fighting for food."

The doctor said all those killed were women, adding that 10 more had been injured, and that two were in a critical condition.

The injured were evacuated to a hospital in Marrakesh, he said.

King Mohammed ordered that the victims' families be given any assistance they needed and said he would pay for treatment for the wounded, the ministry said in a statement, adding that a criminal investigation had been opened.

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Last month, the king dismissed the ministers of education, planning and housing and health after an economic agency found "imbalances" in implementing a development plan to fight poverty in the northern Rif region.

The Rif saw numerous protests after a fishmonger was accidentally crushed to death in a garbage truck in October 2016 after a confrontation with police, and he became a symbol of the effects of corruption and official abuse.

In July, the king pardoned dozens of people arrested in the protests and accused local officials of stoking public anger by being too slow to implement development projects.

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