x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Opposition hails talks with Jordan's king

The Islamic Action Front's statement came as hundreds of Jordanians stage a sit-in in front of the prime minister's office, chanting anti-government slogans.

Jordanian waving flags of the the Islamic Action Front protest against Jordan's new prime minister, Marouf Bakhit, in Amman yesterday.
Jordanian waving flags of the the Islamic Action Front protest against Jordan's new prime minister, Marouf Bakhit, in Amman yesterday.

AMMAN // Jordan's opposition appeared to soften its stance against the king's appointment of a new prime minister yesterday as hundreds of people took to the streets for anti-government protests.

About 1,000 people staged a sit-in in front of the prime minister's office, chanting anti-government slogans. Another 100 rallied in downtown Amman, police said. Demonstrations also took place in the cities of Zarqa and Karak.

The protests came a day after King Abdullah II met opposition leaders, who said they were "very pleased" with the meeting.

"Our meeting with the king was very frank and fruitful," said Nimer Assaf, the deputy chief of the Islamic Action Front (IAF), the political arm of the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood.

"This protest was scheduled almost a week ago and we didn't know about the meeting with the king until yesterday [Thursday] morning. I told his majesty, 'don't consider tomorrow's demonstration as a reaction to this meeting'."

Jordan's Islamist leaders have led protests with other opposition groups in recent weeks, demanding constitutional changes such as having an elected prime minister instead of one appointed by the king.

On Wednesday, Marouf Bakhit, the newly appointed pr ime minister, offered the IAF a place in the government in an attempt to defuse tension since the protests began. But they refused and Mr Bakhit was dismissed by opposition leaders as the wrong person to bring about change.

However, Mr Assaf said yesterday the Islamists were "optimistic", about the reforms taking place following both meetings.

"We met with Bakhit twice and were very frank about our demands. We don't look back, we look forward. We are prepared to put aside any personal views and feelings for the sake of Jordan.

"We feel the king is serious about his intentions for change, and the prime minister said the first law he will try to change is the public assembly law."

The Muslim Brotherhood posted a statement on its website late on Thursday describing its meeting with the king as "candid and clear". It said the meeting touched on various national issues including political reform.

After the talks, King Abdullah released a statement saying the "drive toward comprehensive reforms often stumbled and slowed down". He also said "comprehensive reform must be translated into practical steps through serious reform policies".

Mr Bakhit is expected to announce the new government in the coming few days.

However, people continued to voice anger yesterday about price hikes and a lack of political freedoms.

"Prices must go down," protesters chanted in front of the prime minister's office. "Unify your ranks, the government has sucked your blood." They also marched to the Egyptian Embassy in a show of support for anti-government protesters in Egypt.

"People are suffering from poverty and I am here to ask for changing the Bakhit government like we did with the Rifai government," said Tawfiq Abdul Rahman, 65, a paediatrician in Amman. King Abdullah removed Samir Rifai as prime minister this week and replaced him with Mr Bakhit, who had served as prime minister from 2005 to 2007.

Mr Rahman accused Mr Bakhit's government of fixing elections and criticised him for approving the construction of the country's first casino, which was later cancelled, after much opposition.

smaayeh@thenational.ae