Supporters of Jordan's king take to streets

AP News
Posted: Mar 26, 2011 5:54 PM
Supporters of Jordan's king take to streets

Thousands of supporters of Jordan's King Abdullah II took to the streets of the capital Saturday to express their loyalty, as a resilient opposition protest movement demands political reforms and new elections.

The 7,000 people sought to put on a display that would counterbalance scenes a day earlier when security forces and government supporters clashed with thousands of anti-government protesters.

One person died in Friday's protests, and the government insisted he was one of its supporters and that he died of a heart attack. But Khairi Saad's brother said Saturday that he was among the anti-government protesters, and an Islamic opposition groups said he was beaten to death by police. He was the first person to die during nearly three months of unrest.

Jordan's protests have generally been smaller than those in other Arab nations _ and in another difference have not sought the ouster of the country's leader, Abdullah. But the young Jordanians organizing the demonstrations said this week they are intensifying their campaign, demanding the removal of the prime minister, creation of a more reformist government, the dissolving of what is seen as a docile parliament and the dismantling of the largely feared intelligence department.

Abdullah's supporters waved the king's portrait and danced in Saturday's march, chanting, "With our lives and souls, we sacrifice for you, our king."

Friday's protests were the first to turn violent. Around 120 people were injured in the fighting between pro- and anti-government crowds.

The 55-year-old man who died on Friday was beaten by police, said Hamza Mansour, leader of the Islamic Action Front, Jordan's largest opposition party. The man's brother, Mohammed Saad, confirmed he was part of the anti-government crowd.

Authorities clung to their version. Police chief Lt. Gen. Hussein Majali, state forensic doctor Qais Qsous and president of Jordan's Doctors Association Ahmad Aroumti said an autopsy earlier in the day backed the conclusion that he died of a heart attack.

The opposition said Prime Minister Marouf al-Bakhit, who only took office on Feb. 9, must resign.

"He is directly responsible for having police brutally attack unarmed civilians who wished to express their political views peacefully," said Mansour, of the Islamic Action Front.

"Al-Bakhit is only buying time and is not serious about reforms because we haven't seen many changes in the past few weeks," Mansour said.

"The prime minister has zero tolerance to peaceful critics," he added.

Interior Minister Saad Hayel Srour accused Mansour's group of inciting anti-government protesters to attack policemen protecting them from stones being thrown by government loyalists.

Since al-Bakhit took office, he has introduced a law that removed restrictions on public gatherings.

He has also set up a committee for national dialogue with all Jordanian political forces to discuss amending the constitution, including possibly stripping the king of some of his powers, specifically in appointing prime ministers. The changes would allow for electing the premier by a popular vote.

Other changes the committee is debating include amending an election law that the opposition says favors the king's loyalists and has produced a docile parliament _ the only elected body in Jordan's government.

The opposition says the time for dialogue over and wants the changes implemented immediately.

It wants parliament dissolved and new elections to be held under a new electoral law.