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The Malaysian Insider :: World


Thousands of Jordanians protest for democratic gains

Posted: 25 Feb 2011 07:50 PM PST

Protesters from Jordanian opposition parties shout anti-government slogans during a demonstration against what they say are worsening economic conditions, after Friday prayers in Amman, February 25, 2011.

Supporters of the Jordanian regime hold a picture of the country,s King Abdullah during a rally after Friday prayers in Amman, February 25, 2011. — Reuters pic

AMMAN, Feb 26 — Around 5,000 protesters took to the streets yesterday demanding political liberalisation, wider parliamentary representation and constitutional changes limiting the powers of the throne.

"Reform and change, this is the demand of people," angry protesters shouted among a mainly Islamist and leftist crowd joined by some tribal and liberal figures marching from the main Husseini mosque in the capital's downtown to a nearby square.

The Jordanian opposition, spearheaded by the mainstream Islamists, the country's largest political party, have been protesting for weeks for wider democratic gains as anti-government demonstrations sweep across the Arab world.

They are demanding more say, starting with a modern election law that broadens representation in parliament for inhabitants of the capital and the major cities of Zarqa and Irbid, where most of the country's seven million population live.

The cities, which are Islamist strongholds and heavily populated by Jordanians of Palestinian origin, are under-represented in the 120-seat assembly in favour of sparsely populated rural and Bedouin areas inhabited mainly by native Jordanians, or so-called East Bankers, who are the backbone of support for the throne.

"We tell our government that reform has become a necessity that cannot wait," Sheikh Hamza Mansour, the head of the Islamic Action Front (IAF), the country's largest opposition group, told the crowds in a rally at the end of the march.

"It's not just the demand of the Islamist movement or the opposition party. It's the demand of all Jordanians," he added.

Protesters chanted: "The people want to reform the regime", "we want a fair electoral law", and "people want an elected government".

The Arab world has erupted in protests aimed at ousting long-standing rulers, but protests in Jordan have focused on holding free elections and fighting corruption.

Jordanians see the throne as a unifying force and arbiter among competing tribes from the East Bank and a Palestinian majority from the West Bank. The Islamist and leftist opposition, along with growing traditional voices, want the monarch to move Jordan towards a true constitutional monarchy with a prime minister who is selected by parliament rather than appointed by the palace.

"We want constitutional changes that bring us a parliamentary government and makes parliament truly representative of the Jordanian people," Mansour said.

King Abdullah has faced stiff resistance to his efforts to modernise the tribally structured kingdom from a powerful conservative establishment in the state and the security apparatus that holds a tight grip on power.

He has called on the government to move quickly on reforms that he acknowledged had stumbled.

Prime Minister Marouf al-Bakhit's government promised this week to open a dialogue soon with a wide cross-section of Jordanians, including the Islamist and leftist opposition and civic groups, on how to speed up electoral reforms and lift curbs on public freedoms.

But many Jordanians, who have seen successive governments fail to deliver on promises of reforms, remain deeply sceptical. — Reuters

 

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Protesters say Egypt military uses force on them

Posted: 25 Feb 2011 06:21 PM PST

CAIRO, Feb 26 — Egyptian soldiers fired in the air and used batons in the early hours of today to disperse activists demanding the cabinet appointed by Hosni Mubarak be purged by the country's new military leaders, protesters said.

Thousands had gathered in Cairo's Tahrir Square to celebrate two weeks since Mubarak's removal and remind the country's new rulers, who have promised to guard against "counter revolution" of the people's power.

In the gathering in the epicentre of the uprising against the president, activists urged the military, who had promised there would be "no return to the past" of the Mubarak era, to overhaul the cabinet and install a team of technocrats.

But after midnight, protesters said the military fired in the air, shut off the light from lampposts, and moved in on protesters to force them to leave the square, in an unusual use of military force against protesters since Mubarak's fall.

"Military police used batons and tasers to hit the protesters," Ahmed Bahgat, one of the protesters, told Reuters by telephone. "The military is once again using force. But the protesters have not responded."

Protesters left the main centre but many had gathered in surrounding streets, another protester, Mohamed Emad, said. Witnesses said they saw several protesters fall to the ground but it was not clear if they were wounded or how seriously.

"I am one of thousands of people who stood their ground after the army started dispersing the protesters, shooting live bullets into the air to scare them," said protester Ashraf Omar.

Tasers and sticks

"They were using tasers and sticks to beat us without any control. I thought things would change. I wanted to give the government a chance but there is no hope with this regime," Omar said. "There is no use."

"I am back on the street. I either live with dignity or I die here."

Protesters say they want the resignation of the government of Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq, the immediate release of political prisoners, and the issuing of a general amnesty.

The Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt's best-organised political group, and others are particularly concerned about the key portfolios of defence, interior, justice and foreign affairs, and want a clean break from Mubarak's old guard.

The military, facing strikes over pay as well as turmoil in Libya, treads a fine line between granting people new freedoms and restoring normal life.

The army officers who moved in on protesters in Tahrir donned black masks to cover their faces to avoid being identified by protesters, Omar said.

Military busses were parked in the square to take in protesters who were caught, Mohamed Aswany, one protester who had decided to stage a sit-in, told Reuters by telephone.

Protesters were heard yelling and shouting as they were chased down side streets to Tahrir.

"It is a cat and mouse chase between the army and the people," Omar said in dismay. "There is no more unity between the people and the army."

Former officials detained

In one attempt to appease protesters and show a break with the past, several former ministers and business executives linked to Mubarak's ruling party have come under investigation.

Egypt's public prosecutor referred two former ministers and several prominent businessmen to a criminal court on Thursday on accusations of squandering public funds.

In the latest case, investigators have ordered the detention of former Information minister Anas el-Fekky for 15 days on charges of profiteering and wasting public funds, the state news agency Mena said today.

Investigators also ordered the head of the Egyptian Television and Broadcasting Union be detained.

Anti-government protesters had been angered by Fekky because state media, which fell under his charge, had ignored, played down or attacked demonstrations that ousted Mubarak.

Egypt's prosecutor said in its charges against Fekky that he had allocated state television funding to back presidential and parliamentary campaigns for Mubarak and his National Democratic Party, in violation of election laws.

The prosecutor also said Fekky had used excess funding in revamping studios and for channels owned by state television.

The former minister denied the charges, Mena reported, saying that he saw no excess in allocating budgets and that he had made such decisions to maintain competitiveness with other, private channels.

Fekky also denied that state television unfairly helped the campaign for Mubarak or his party:

"Those campaigns spoke of accomplishments in Egypt in general and did not praise one person or one party." — Reuters

 

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