5,000 rally in Jordan against price hikes

AFP , Friday 21 Jan 2011

Tunisia's revolt resonates in the Arab world, as several thousands of Jordanian protesters call for political and economic reform

More than 5,000 people rallied in Amman and other cities after weekly prayers on Friday against Jordan's economic policies, demanding "bread and freedom" and that the government resign.

"(Prime Minister Samir) Rifai, out, out! People of Jordan will not bow," protesters chanted as they marched from the Al-Hussein mosque in central Amman to the nearby municipality building. "Our demands are legitimate. We want bread and freedom."

Police handed out bottles of water and juice to the demonstrators, who carried banners reading, "We demand social justice and freedom", "No to oppression, yes to change" and, "We need a national salvation government."

Police spokesman Mohammad Khatib said about 4,000 people took part in the capital's peaceful protest, organised by the powerful Muslim Brotherhood and its political arm, the Islamic Action Front (IAF).

"What we urgently need are real political and socio-economic reforms," IAF secretary general Hamzeh Mansur told the crowds.

About 1,400 people demonstrated in other parts of Jordan, mainly the northern cities of Zarqa and Irbid.

Rifai on Thursday announced a $283m plan to raise salaries of government staff as well as the pensions of retired government employees and servicemen in the face of popular discontent.

The $28 a month raise came nine days after a $169m plan to improve living conditions.

The current minimum wage is $211 a month.

But the Islamist opposition and others say the new measures are not enough as poverty levels are running at 25 per cent in the desert kingdom, whose capital is the most expensive city in the Arab world, according to several independent studies.

"These measures are designed to drug people, nothing more. We need comprehensive reforms," said prominent unionist Maisarah Malas.

Retired serviceman Faruq Abbadi, 54, agreed."The government should change its economic policies and mentality. We are protesting today because we want to protect ourselves and our nation. We have gone 50 years backwards," he said.

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

"The new government measures are not enough. Prices and taxes are still high, while our income is still low," Marwan Malihi, a 52-year-old engineer, told AFP.

A $1.5bn deficit, equivalent to 5 per cent of gross domestic product, is expected in this year's $8.8bn budget.

Thousands of Jordanians took to the streets of the kingdom in a similar protest on Friday last week.

Tunisia's popular revolt, which has ousted the country's strongman Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, has inspired dissidents across the Arab world and sparked protests in countries, including in Algeria, Jordan and Egypt.

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