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Jordanians protest living conditions, blame govt

AMMAN, Jan 14, 2011 – Thousands of demonstrators took to the streets of Amman and other Jordanian cities on Friday to protest at soaring commodity prices, unemployment and poverty, calling for the government to be sacked.

Despite government measures to create jobs and control increasing prices, around 8,000 people took part in peaceful demonstrations across the kingdom.

Carrying national flags and chanting anti-government slogans in downtown Amman, demonstrators including trade unionists and leftist party members called Prime Minister Samir Rifai a "coward" and demanded he resign.

"Jordan is not only for the rich. Bread is a red line. Beware of our starvation and fury," read one of the banners carried after mid-day Muslim prayers, amid a heavy police presence.

"Down with Rifai\’s government. Unify yourselves because the government wants to eat your flesh. Raise fuel prices to fill your pocket with millions," the protesters chanted as they marched in the city centre.

"He who appoints governments is responsible, fighting corruption starts with the head," opposition figure Leith Shbeilat told a crowd of demonstrators.

Under the constitution, the king names the prime minister. Rifai, 43, formed his government in December 2009.

"We protest against arbitrary government actions against the Jordanian people. We urge the king to dismiss the government and replace it with a national government," Deifallah Salem, a retired serviceman, told AFP in Amman\’s city centre.

Similar demonstrations took place in the cities of Maan, Karak, Slat and Irbid, where protesters chanted that Jordan was "too big" for Rifai.

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"We are protesting against the government\’s economic policies which have made people poorer," said Nihad Zuhair of the Democratic Youth Rally group in Irbid.

On Tuesday, Jordan announced a 169-million-dollar plan to reduce prices of commodities, including fuel, and create jobs in a bid to face rising popular discontent.

But critics say the measures are not enough, complaining of rising unemployment and poverty as inflation last month hit 6.1 percent. Government economic policies "have made the poor poorer and the rich richer," they say.

Unemployment is around 14 percent in the country of six million people, 70 percent of them under 30, but other estimates put the figure at 30 percent, while the minimum wage is 211 dollars a month.

Poverty levels are running at 25 percent in the desert kingdom, whose capital Amman is the most expensive city in the Arab world, according to several independent studies.

The measures to control prices and create jobs follow widespread violent protests and fatal clashes with police in Algeria and Tunisia over inflation.

"We want the government to meet people\’s fair demands as quickly as possible, ease their burdens and start a dialogue with national powers to launch true and comprehensive reforms," the powerful Islamist opposition said.

The Muslim Brotherhood, its political arm the Islamic Action Front (IAF), and the country\’s 14 trade unions said they will hold a sit-in outside parliament on Sunday to "denounce government economic polices."

"God knows where this tension would lead the country," the unions said.

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"We demand a solution to this problem to avert any negative repercussions through reforming policies and carry out true and fair economic and political reforms."

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