By Agence France Presse (AFP)
Saturday, January 29, 2011
AMMAN: Thousands of Jordanians held peaceful demonstrations in Amman and other cities Friday as the authorities rejected the accusations of a Human Rights group that claimed they were “stifling dissent.”
Human Rights Watch accused the Jordanian authorities of curbing freedom of expression and called on them to allow dissent.
“Jordanians have the right to express their opinions without pressure or fear of reprisal,” Political Development Minister Musa Maayta said in a statement to local media.
“Thousands of people demonstrated and there was not a single arrest made nor any police harassment,” he said. “It is strange that HRW thinks Jordan is oppressive.”
“Jordan should stop stifling dissent and allow Jordanians to voice their grievances freely,” HRW Middle East researcher Christoph Wilcke said.
“King Abdullah rightly recognized the importance of hearing all voices to debates about Jordan’s future. Yet prosecutors time and time again initiate criminal proceedings against dissidents,” he added.
Maayta said Jordan is working hard to enhance human rights.
“Political reform and strengthening human rights is an ongoing process,” he added
After Muslim prayers Friday, an estimated 3,000 people marched through central Amman holding national flags.
“Egypt, the Arab nation salutes you. We urge your men to get rid of [President Hosni] Mubarak,” they chanted. “The Arab people’s message: you are corrupt, beware our anger. [Ousted Tunisian President Zine El Abidine] Ben Ali is waiting for you,” they said, referring to his ouster in an uprising.
Police said around 2,000 people staged protests in other cities, answering a call by the powerful Muslim Brotherhood which demands political and economic reforms in the kingdom.
Irbid, Karak, Maan and Diban were also the scenes of peaceful protests at which no clashes were reported. Like during a demonstration on the previous Friday, police in the capital distributed water and juice.
“Together let’s make political and economic change,” banners read. “Down with the [Prime Minister] Samir Rifai government. We want a national salvation government.”
Muslim Brotherhood leader Hammam Said demanded an elected government. “Jordanians should elect their government. Why should they be deprived from electing a government that would feel with and represent them… a government that would make us feel safe?” he told the crowd.
The Islamists have 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 Jordanian Constitution, adopted in 1952, gives the king the exclusive prerogative to appoint and dismiss the prime minister.
“It’s time for change. The people can no longer accept corruption. We do not want a government comprised of aristocrats, merchants and the rich,” Said told the demonstrators.
The government has announced it was pumping around $500 million into the economy in a bid to help living conditions, but protests have been staged in Amman and other cities over the past two weeks against high prices.
“We are protesting today to demand genuine reforms that would boost the people’s participation in deciding their future,” said Abdelhadi Falahat, head of the trade unions’ council. – AFP