Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Jordan king names new PM amid protests


Jordan's Royal Palace says the king has sacked his government in the wake of street protests and has asked an ex-army general to form a new Cabinet.

King Abdullah II of Jordan named Maruf Bakhit as prime minister on Tuesday with orders to carry out "true political reforms," the palace said, after weeks of opposition protests demanding change.

"King Abdullah II designated Maruf Bakhit to form a new government to replace the government of Samir Rifai," a palace statement said.

"Bakhit's mission is to take practical, quick and tangible steps to launch true political reforms, enhance Jordan's democratic drive and ensure safe and decent living for all Jordanians."

Jordan's Islamists

Jordan's powerful opposition Islamic Action Front on Tuesday sharply criticised King Abdullah II's choice of Bakhit as new prime minister, saying he is not a reformist.

Jordan's Islamist opposition said on Monday that it had started a dialogue with the state, saying that unlike the situation in Egypt, it did not seek regime change.

Opposition demands included "the resignation of the government, the amendment of the electoral law and the formation of a national salvation government headed by an elected prime minister," a member of the Islamic Action Front's executive council, Zaki Bani Rsheid, told AFP.

King Abdullah's move comes after thousands of Jordanians took to the streets - inspired by the regime ouster in Tunisia and the turmoil in Egypt - and called for the resignation of Rifai who is blamed for a rise in fuel and food prices and slowed political reforms.

Rifai,43, formed a first government in December 2009, and reshuffled it in November 2010. Bakhit, who was born in 1947, served as prime minister from 2005 to 2007.

He was appointed in 2005, two weeks after a triple suicide bombing against Amman hotels, claimed by Jordanian-born al-Qaeda in Iraq leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, killed 60 people.

Opposition demands

Opposition demands included "the resignation of the government, the amendment of the electoral law and the formation of a national salvation government headed by an elected prime minister," Bani Rsheid told AFP then.

Former PM of Jordan, Samir Rifai
The Islamists have also called for constitutional amendments to curb the king's power in naming government heads, arguing that the premiership should go to the leader of the majority in parliament.

The constitution, adopted in 1952, gives the king the exclusive prerogative to appoint and dismiss prime ministers.

Despite recent government measures to pump around $500 million into the economy in a bid to help improve living conditions, protests have been held in Amman and other cities over the past three weeks to demand political and economic reform.

Tunisia's popular revolt, which ousted veteran strongman Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, has inspired dissidents across the Arab world.

Demonstrators have taken to the streets of Egypt for eight straight days calling for President Hosni Mubarak to step down after three decades in power.

Al Arabiya
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