Jordanians rush to palace amid cash handouts hoax

AFP , Wednesday 9 Mar 2011

Poverty-stricken Jordanians tell of disappointment over cash aid rumor

Hundreds of impoverished Jordanians flocked to the royal court on Wednesday after a rumour that it was giving out up to 500 dinars ($700) in cash aid, but the authorities denied any handouts.

Braving a heavy downpour and strong, cold winds, cash-strapped citizens from across Jordan gathered outside the royal court in central Amman, which has seen in recent weeks protests against the high cost of living.

Inspired by the popular revolts in Tunisia and Egypt, Jordanians have been also protesting for weeks to demand political and economic reforms.

"I came early in the morning from Karak (southern Jordan) after I heard that the royal court was giving money to the poor," Hamad Buheirat, 53, a retired soldier, told AFP.

"I receive a retirement pension of 200 dinars a month. It is not enough to feed my family," said the father of eight, wearing the traditional grey dishdasha long robe and a red and white keffiyeh head scarf.

The palace denied it was handing out financial aid and said people behind the rumour had been arrested.

"Information that the royal court is providing cash assistance to the people is false," the state-run Petra news agency quoted a palace official as saying.

"Those who were behind the rumour were arrested," the statement added.

People who had flocked outside the gates of the royal court hoping for aid said they were told by shopkeepers in the area they had to sign petitions and submit them to the palace to get assistance.

One woman said she had to pay two dinars to get a petition

"We were told by shopkeepers that if we sign a petition asking for aid and submit it to the palace, we will get from 200 to 500 dinars," said Warda Othman, as others in the crowd approved her remarks.

"I spent 13 dinars on transportation from Jerash (northwest) to Amman, and I paid two dinars to get a petition," said the slim 43-year-old woman, wearing a long black dusty dress.

"My husband is physically handicapped, we have two children and we live in a room that even dead people should not be kept in. We cannot cope with the current high prices," she said.

A copy of a petition seen by AFP read: "Your majesty, I suffer from severe poverty, and life is very hard. I have a big family. Only you and God can help us."

Members of the royal guard tried to convince people that it was just a hoax.

"Even after we explained to them, they still had high hopes that they would be receiving some kind of assistance," a member of the elite force told AFP.

Tafesh Hassan, 70, who receives 60 dinars in state welfare aid each month, could not hide his disappointment.

"I paid 15 dinars (in transportation) to come from Ramtha (near the Syrian border). What should I do now? All of this was for nothing," he said, with tears in his eyes.

In late January the government announced it was pumping around 500 million dollars into the economy in a bid to help living conditions amid rising prices and protests.

Unemployment is around 14 percent in the country of six million people, 70 percent of them under 30, but other estimates put the figure at 30 percent, while the minimum wage is 211 dollars a month.

Poverty levels are running at 25 percent in the desert kingdom, whose capital Amman is the most expensive city in the Arab world, according to several independent studies.

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