Jordanians march for political reform

Thousands of Jordanians have taken part in anti-government protests in Amman and other towns, demanding political reform, better economic conditions and the resignation of the country's unpopular prime minister.

The demonstrations were supported by a large number of political and social groups, including the Jordanian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, the country’s main opposition party.

The protests have so far remained largely peaceful, and have yet to reach the same scale of mass unrest witnessed recently in Tunisia, Egypt and Yemen. Crucially, the protesters have also refrained from openly challenging Abdullah II, the Jordanian king.

However, local analysts said discontent was now spreading to smaller cities across the country, suggesting the situation may yet escalate. While the biggest demonstration was once again held in the capital Amman, there were also reports of protests in a large number of provincial cities, including Zarqa, Irbid and Kerak.

According to agency reports from Amman, protesters called on Abdullah II to sack Samir Rifai, the current prime minister, and replace his cabinet with a “national salvation” government. Mr Rifai is blamed by many Jordanians for the country's economic woes, which include high unemployment and soaring prices for fuel, electricity and food staples.

Christoph Wilcke, a senior researcher at Human Rights Watch who covers Jordan, said the demonstrations were motivated largely by domestic economic issues. “The clear message is for the king to get rid of the current government.”

However, there was also a political edge to the Jordanian protests, with several reports saying that demonstrators in Amman chanted support for their fellow protesters in Tunisia and Egypt. There were repeated calls for the downfall of Hosni Mubarak, the Egyptian president.

"Egypt, the Arab nation salutes you. We urge your men to get rid of Mubarak," the crowd shouted at one point, according to a report by AFP, the French news agency.

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