AMMAN, (AFP) — Thousands of Jordanians held peaceful demonstrations in Amman and other cities on Friday to press for reform and the government’s resignation, taking their cue from Tunisia and Egypt.
“Egypt, the Arab nation salutes you. We urge your men to get rid of (President Hosni) Mubarak,” an estimated 3,000 people chanted as they marched through central Amman holding national flags after Muslim weekly prayers.
“The Arab people’s message: you are corrupt, beware our anger. (Ousted Tunisian president Zine El Abidine) Ben Ali is waiting for you,” they said, referring to his ouster in a popular uprising.
Police said around 2,000 people staged protests in other cities, answering a call by the powerful Muslim Brotherhood which demands political and economic reforms in the kingdom.
Irbid, Karak, Maan and Diban were also the scenes of peaceful protests at which no clashes were reported. Like during a demonstration on the previous Friday, police in the capital distributed water and juice.
“Together let’s make political and economic change,” banners read. “Down with the (prime minister) Samir Rifai government. We want a national salvation government.”
Muslim Brotherhood leader Hammam Said demanded an elected government.
“Jordanians should elect their government. Why should they be deprived from electing a government that would feel with and represent them … a government that would make us feel safe?” he told the crowd.
The Islamists have called for constitutional amendments to curb the king’s power in naming government heads, arguing that the premiership should go to the leader of the majority in parliament.
The Jordanian constitution, adopted in 1952, gives the king the exclusive prerogative to appoint and dismiss the prime minister.
King Abdullah II held meetings earlier this week with senior officials, MPs, senators and others as part of efforts to “come closer to the demands of the people,” urging them to speed up political and socio-economic reforms.
“It’s time for change. People can no longer accept corruption. We do not want a government of aristocrats, merchants and the rich,” Said told the demonstrators.
The government has announced it was pumping around 500 million dollars into the economy in a bid to help living conditions, but protests have been staged in Amman and other cities over the past two weeks against high prices.
“We are protesting today to demand genuine reforms that would boost the people’s participation in deciding their future,” said Abdelhadi Falahat, head of the trade unions’ council.
The Islamists and Jordan’s 14 trade unions, which group more than 200,000 members, say the government’s new measures are inadequate as poverty levels are running at 25 percent in the desert kingdom.
The cost of living in Amman is the highest in the Arab world, according to several independent studies.
Official unemployment is running at about 14 percent in the country of six million people, 70 percent of them under the age of 30. Other estimates put the jobless figure at 30 percent.
Tunisia’s popular revolt, which ousted the country’s veteran strongman Ben Ali, has inspired dissidents across the Arab world and sparked protests.
In Egypt, riot police fired tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse tens of thousands of protesters who flooded out of Friday prayers demanding an end to decades of corruption and oppression and the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak.