Thousands rally in Jordan demanding 'bread, freedom'

Protesters urge government to resign

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More than 5,000 people rallied in Amman and other cities after weekly prayers on Friday against Jordan's economic policies, demanding 'bread and freedom' and that the government resign.

"(Prime Minister Samir) Rifai, out, out! People of Jordan will not bow," protesters chanted as they marched from al-Hussein mosque in central Amman to the nearby municipality building, according to AFP.

"Our demands are legitimate. We want bread and freedom."

Police handed out bottles of water and juice to the demonstrators, who carried banners reading, "We demand social justice and freedom", "No to oppression, yes to change" and, "We need a national salvation government."

About 1,400 people demonstrated in other parts of Jordan, mainly the northern cities of Zarqa and Irbid.

Police spokesman Mohammad Khatib said about 4,000 people took part in the capital's peaceful protest, organized by the powerful Muslim Brotherhood and its political arm the Islamic Action Front.

"What we urgently need is real political and socio-economic reforms," IAF secretary general Hamzeh Mansur told the crowds.

Rifai on Thursday announced a $283 million (211 million euro) plan to raise salaries of government staff as well as the pensions of retired government employees and servicemen in the face of popular discontent.

The $28 a month raise came nine days after a $169 million plan to improve living conditions.

The current minimum wage is $211 a month.

Rifai, out, out! People of Jordan will not bow. Our demands are legitimate. We want bread and freedom

Protesters

"Measures designed to drug people"

But the Islamist opposition and others say the new measures are not enough as poverty levels are running at 25% in the desert kingdom, whose capital is the most expensive city in the Arab world, according to several independent studies.

"These measures are designed to drug people, nothing more. We need comprehensive reforms," said prominent unionist Maisarah Malas.

Retired serviceman Farouq Abbadi, 54, agreed.

"The government should change its economic policies and mentality. We are protesting today because we want to protect ourselves and our nation. We have gone 50 years backwards," he said.

Official unemployment is about 14% in the country of six million people, 70% of them under the age of 30. But other estimates put the jobless figure at 30%.

"The new government measures are not enough. Prices and taxes are still high, while our income is still low," Marwan Malihi, a 52-year-old engineer, told AFP.

A $1.5 billion deficit, equivalent to 5% of gross domestic product, is expected on this year's $8.8 billion budget.

Thousands of Jordanians took to the streets of the kingdom in a similar protest on Friday last week.

Tunisia's popular revolt, which has ousted the country's strongman Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, has inspired dissidents across the Arab world and sparked protests in countries including Algeria, Jordan and Egypt.

The government should change its economic policies and mentality. We are protesting today because we want to protect ourselves and our nation. We have gone 50 years backwards

Unionist Maisarah Malas