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Thousands of Jordanians march to press for reform


Thousands of Jordanians demonstrated peacefully in Amman and other cities after weekly prayers on Friday to press for political and economic reform, and demanding that the government resign.

"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 in Amman city centre holding national flags.

"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.

Police said around 2,000 people staged protests in other cities, answering a call by the powerful Muslim Brotherhood which is insisting on forcing political and economic reform in the kingdom.

"Together let's make political and economic change", "no alternative to political reform," and "down with the Samir Rifai government. We want a national salvation government," read some banners, referring to Jordan's premier.

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 crowds.

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 this week with senior officials, MPs, senators and others as part of his 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 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 and economic policy.

"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 the country'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.

They complain that the cost of living in Amman is the highest in the Arab world, according to several independent studies.

Official unemployment is about 14 per cent in the country of six million people, 70 per cent of them under the age of 30. But other estimates put the jobless figure at 30 per cent.

Tunisia's popular revolt, which ousted the country's veteran strongman Ben Ali, has inspired dissidents across the Arab world and sparked protests.