Jordanian protesters demand political reforms

Suleiman al-Khalidi – Reuters January 28, 2011

Islamists, leftists and trade unionists gathered in central Amman Friday for the latest protest to demand political change and wider freedoms. 

A crowd of at least 3,000 chanted: “We want change.”

Banners and chants showed a wider range of grievances than the high food prices that fueled earlier protests, and included demands for free elections, the dismissal of Prime Minister Samir Rifai’s government and a representative parliament.

The protest after Friday prayers was organized by the Islamic Action Front, the political arm of the Muslim Brotherhood which is the only effective opposition and biggest party, but included members of leftist parties and trade unions.

Jordan’s protests, as in several Arab countries, have been inspired by the uprising that overthrew the Tunisian president.

“After Tunisia, Arab nations have found their way toward the path of political freedom and dignity,” said Zaki Bani Rusheid, a leading Islamist politician.

Demonstrations have taken place across Jordan calling for reversal of free-market reforms which many blame for a widening gap between rich and poor.

Jordan is struggling with its worst economic downturn in decades. The government has announced measures to reduce the prices of essentials, create jobs and raise salaries of civil servants. Protesters say the moves do not go far enough.

KING CALLS FOR OPENNESS

King Abdullah told lawmakers Thursday the government must do more to ease the plight of Jordanians and urged a faster tempo of political reforms.

“Openness, frankness and discourse over all issues is the way to strengthen trust between people and government entities,” the monarch was quoted as saying in a palace statement.

“Everything should be put in front of people. There is nothing to be afraid of,” said the 49-year-old monarch, who has faced stiff resistance from a conservative establishment to reforms they fear will empower the Islamists.

He urged the 120-member assembly to amend an electoral law criticized as designed to underrepresent cities in favor of sparsely-populated tribal areas to ensure a pliant assembly.

Under the constitution, most powers rest with the king, who appoints the government, approves legislation and can dissolve parliament.

(Writing by Suleiman al-Khalidi; editing by Andrew Roche)

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