x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Criticism mounts in Morocco after mosque collapse

Residents in the city of Meknes, where a mosque collapsed and killed 41 people, ask why the building had not been renovated like other landmarks.

People walk past the collapsed historic minaret in Meknes' old quarter to attend a funeral on Saturday.
People walk past the collapsed historic minaret in Meknes' old quarter to attend a funeral on Saturday.
Criticism mounted yesterday over the apparent lack of maintenance of an 18th-century mosque in central Morocco, a day after its minaret collapsed, killing 41 people and injuring 76 others. Rescuers ended their search at midday in the central city of Meknes, concluding all the victims buried in the rubble had been accounted for. The bodies of the dead were handed over to families for immediate burial.

Local authorities blocked off access to the Bab Berdieyinne mosque, located in Meknes' crammed and bustling Old City, fearing its walls also risked collapsing. A strong smell of dust hung over the site. Meanwhile the country's monarch Mohammed VI ordered an urgent appraisal of all the country's old mosques, after which "the necessary measures will be taken," the interior ministry said in a statement.

King Mohammed has already ordered the reconstruction of the minaret "keeping to its original form". One of the city's tallest, Bab Berdieyinne's minaret came crashing down on worshippers who packed the mosque for Friday afternoon prayers. Of the injured, 51 people have already left hospital after receiving treatment, a civil protection official said. Many locals blamed the disaster on heavy rains that have lashed the north African country in recent days.

But as Meknes mourned its dead, some also asked why the mosque had not been renovated like other neighbourhood landmarks. Local activist Younes Chaker said the minaret figured in a list of some 520 buildings described in a municipal survey as needing immediate renovation. "What happened to the budget set aside for this work?" Mr Chaker asked. "Local authorities did not listen to the people," another resident, Imad Nabali, said. "What are our elected officials there for?"

Morocco has suffered weeks of heavy rains, causing flooding that had already claimed several lives, cut off roads and destroyed crops in both the north and south of the country. The disaster at the Bab Berdieyinne mosque was the worst of its kind in the north African kingdom, whose cities and towns have ancient quarters with buildings dating back several centuries. Much of the mosque was made from adobe, a sun-dried brick of earth and straw. Its towering minaret was one of the town's landmarks.

The mosque was built at the initiative of the country's first woman minister, Khnata Bent Bakkar. * AFP