Jordan opposition demands PM's ouster after unrest

AFP , Saturday 26 Mar 2011

Jordan's Islamist opposition, leftists and trade unions demanded the ouster of PM Bakhit, who they blame for violence that has killed one person and injured 130

Protesters calling themselves the "Youth of March 24 Movement" demonstrate to demand for political reform and the ouster of the prime minister in a main square in Amman March 24, 2011 REUTERS

Jordan's Islamist opposition, leftists and trade unions on Saturday demanded the ouster of Prime Minister Maaruf Bakhit, who they blame for violence that has killed one person and injured 130.

"The Islamist movement demands the resignation, or the sacking, of the government and the formation a national unity and reformist government that would win the people's trust and protect their lives," Hamzah Mansur, chief of the powerful Islamic Action Front (IAF), said.

"Any government that kills citizens loses legitimacy," he told a news conference.

Youth movements backed the Islamist call.

"We demand the prime minister and intelligence chief (Mohammed Raqqad) quit," Firas Mahadin of the March 24 youth group told reporters. "We have reached a point of no return."

His father, Muwaffaq Mahadin, a prominent leftist writer, warned "the country is heading towards a civil war and the government is responsible for that because it wants to avoid reforms."

The rift between Jordan's government and Islamists widened after the prime minister on Friday accused the main opposition movement of spreading chaos following the death of a protester, the first in the kingdom.

"Stop playing with fire... stop hiding your real intentions," Prime Minister Bakhit told Islamists in an address broadcast on Jordanian television.

"We have invited the Muslim Brotherhood for talks, away from protests and demonstrations, but apparently they have an agenda to create chaos in the country," Bakhit said.

Brotherhood spokesman Jamil Abu Bakr said "by accusing the Muslim Brotherhood, the government is trying to escape its responsibilities" proving his calls for reform and freedom were false.

Mansur accused the government of "crimes against humanity."

"The government of Maaruf Bakhit has given proof that it does not believe in the reforms, it is a government with blood on its hands which today has committed crimes against humanity," he said.

The IAF is the main opposition party and political branch of the Brotherhood which found protection in Jordan in the 1950s and 1980s when they were persecuted in Egypt and Syria.

Adopting an unusually strident tone, Bakhit accused the Brotherhood of "taking orders from the Muslim brothers in Egypt and Syria," adding their refusal to dialogue signalled they chose "chaos" for the country.

The Islamist rejected his accusations.

"We always hear such lies from time to time. We are leaders and we have the right to consult with our brothers in Damascus about the Palestinian cause," Brotherhood leader Hammam Said told reporters.

"We do not take orders or instructions from anybody.

Friday's violence in Amman, the first of its kind since protests erupted three months ago, left one person dead and wounded 130 people, three of them in critical condition, medics said.

According to the police 60 civilians and 58 policemen were wounded.

Meanwhile the son of a the protester killed on Friday said the family will not bury him until the interior ministry quits and security officials are sacked.

"We refuse to take his body from the morgue and we will not bury him unless we receive an official apology and the interior minister resigns," Khairy Saad Jamil's son, Nasser, 34, told AFP.

He said his father died after "receiving several blows to his body" while Interior Minister Saad Srur said the cause of death was a "heart attack."

Srur, who is also deputy prime minister, has announced the opening of an investigation to determine those responsible for Friday's violence.

The clashes erupted when about 200 government supporters hurled large stones at more than 2,000 young demonstrators from different movements, including the Islamist opposition.

Police broke up a protest camp set up by the demonstrators who were urging regime reforms and more efforts to fight corruption.

The violence came as US Defence Secretary Robert Gates paid a brief visit Friday to Jordan for talks with key ally King Abdullah.

US officials say the king has been more active in pursuing reforms compared to other leaders in the region.

The government had formed a commission for national dialogue, rejected by Islamists while 15 of its members quit on Friday, saying the government committed "a massacre" and was not seriously committed to reforms.

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