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Last Updated: Tuesday, 2 March, 2004, 14:57 GMT
Arrests over quake aid 'scam'
By Pascale Harter
BBC, Morocco

Earthquake survivors
Tens of thousands of people have been made homeless
Two men in Morocco have appeared in court for allegedly trying to embezzle humanitarian supplies meant for thousands of earthquake victims.

The regional co-ordinator of the Red Crescent in Al Hoceima is facing trial for attempting to steal a truck-load of blankets destined for survivors.

The arrests follow angry protests by survivors in the streets of the region claiming the government withheld aid.

More than 500 people were killed in last Tuesday's earthquake.

A third man, an elected official, has also been arrested after police said he fired a shot in the air to disperse an angry crowd who accused him of hoarding aid supplies for his own use.

Wider claims

Communication Minister Nabil Benabdallah told the BBC the authorities would pursue to the very end any evidence that aid had been siphoned off in the aftermath of the earthquake.

"The law is not to be trifled with," he said.

Angry protesters
Protesters have said they were ignored by the government
However, the minister conceded that it was not the actions of these two men alone which had caused the local population to demonstrate on the streets during the last week.

Protesters have claimed that local government itself was blocking the distribution of aid.

The accusation was echoed by foreign relief workers who said bureaucracy prevented tents, blankets and food being delivered in the days immediately after the earthquake, when tens of thousands of people were camping out in the cold and rain.

Several foreign emergency teams of firemen with sniffer dogs say local officials blocked them from leaving the airport to search for bodies during the crucial first 48 hours in which most earthquake victims are found alive.

These two arrests may not be enough to stem the sense of outrage growing in the Moroccan and foreign press.

Morocco king visits quake town
28 Feb 04  |  Africa
Morocco quake search called off
26 Feb 04  |  Africa
In pictures: Morocco earthquake
24 Feb 04  |  Photo Gallery
Quake survivors speak of panic
24 Feb 04  |  Africa
Deadly history of earthquakes
08 Jan 04  |  In Depth

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