Jordanians demand constitutional reform in mass rally
Led by Muslim Brotherhood, over 10,000 march in Amman for democratic reforms, in largest protest in Jordan since outbreak of the Arab Spring.
More than 10,000 Jordanians demanded widespread constitutional reforms on Friday in an opposition rally being described as Jordan's largest protest since the outbreak of the Arab Spring in late 2010.
The rally in downtown Amman occurred less than 24 hours after King Abdullah II dissolved parliament and called for early elections.
Activists said Abdullah's action did not go far enough.
The protest was led by the Muslim Brotherhood, Jordan's largest political force. More than 80 political parties, reform coalition and trade unions participated, calling for the transfer of King Abdullah's authority to appoint governments of "the people."
With more than 2,000 security personnel lining the streets, Islamist and independent activists called for "regime reform," chanting "from the north to the south, we all demand reform."
In what marked some of the harshest public criticism of the monarch to date, participants accused the palace of "avoiding" democratic changes. They chanted, "Abdullah, son of Hussein, where are our freedoms?"
Elections are expected to be held under a controversial law that critics say favors regime loyalists and amid a growing boycott movement.
"We don't want elections for elections sake, we want the basic right to choose our own governments," Haythem Yasin, organizer of the independent Political Thought protest group, said, adding, "It is inevitable, and the more the regime delays, we are going to enter a deeper and deeper political crisis."
The Muslim Brotherhood, one of several political parties that plans to boycott the polls, said Friday's turnout served as "proof" of Jordanians' growing frustration with the "status quo."
"For over a year the Jordanian people have demanded the right to real democratic change, and the same old games will no longer work," said Zaki Bani Rusheid, deputy head of the Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood. "Without constitutional reform, these elections will only become part of the problem, not the solution."
Despite a pledge by Abdullah that lawmakers will form the next government, he retains the power to appoint and dismiss prime ministers as well as dissolve parliament.
The United States expressed support for Abdullah's efforts "to foster a more inclusive political process." U.S. State Department deputy spokesman Mark Toner said Friday the moves were "in line" with Abdullah's commitment to "a more inclusive democracy and more representative democracy in Jordan."
Toner said the U.S. encouraged the Jordanian government to take steps to ensure a "free and fair election."
Jordan began preparation for the polls with a registration drive in August, with 1.9 out of 3 million eligible voters registered as of Thursday.
Friday's rally was held amid rising concerns of potential clashes between activists and so-called loyalist counter-protestors. Authorities blocked off traffic across the capital and barricaded several side streets to prevent any confrontations.
Despite a failed attempt by some two-dozen counter-protestors to infiltrate the rally, it was held without incident and no arrests were reported.
Although well short of activists' previously stated goal of 50,000 participants, Friday's rally dwarfed the crowds of several hundred that usually turn out for weekly pro-reform protests.