AMMAN: Jordan’s Islamist opposition urged King Abdullah to form a government of national salvation Friday to calm street protests sparked by steep increases in fuel prices.
The call came as several thousand Islamists and members of leftist parties rallied in the capital Amman to keep up pressure on a government they blame for worsening the plight of the poor.
The price hikes include a 54 percent increase in the cost of gas cylinders used for cooking and heating. Much of the unrest since mid-November has hit impoverished towns across the country.
The protesters called for the removal of Prime Minister Abdullah Ensour and urged citizens to rise up against the price rises, which the government says are necessary to bring stretched state finances under control.
Officials from the Muslim Brotherhood, the country’s largest political party, say the authorities should form a more credible, broad-based government to restore stability.
“Wisdom is needed by the authorities to defuse the crisis the country is facing and to respond to people’s demands to abolish price increases and form a government of national salvation,” said Sheikh Hamza Mansour, head of the Islamic Action Front, the political arm of the Brotherhood. “Unless the state backs down, the nation is open to all possibilities,” he warned.
Opposition politicians blamed Jordan’s financial problems on the ruling elite’s failure to punish corruption among top officials.
“The Jordanians are thirsty for reforms,” Ahmad Obeidat, a former prime minister and spy chief, told the crowds in Amman.
“The people want to reform the regime. We demand reform and change. Ensour, out before the people revolt,” chanted the protesters.
“The people want the downfall of the [fuel] prices. Together, let’s reject the decision to raise the prices,” read a banner carried by the demonstrators, gathered near Gamal Abdel Nasser Circle, close to the city center.
Police said 3,000 people took part in the protest, while organizers put the number at around 20,000. According to an AFP estimate, the demonstrators numbered around 10,000.
Demonstrators gave police flowers, but a limited number called for “the fall of regime,” which is punishable by imprisonment under Jordanian law.
Ensour’s government faces a weak economy and a steep drop in foreign aid that leave it with less money to distribute among the population in the form of jobs and subsidies.
Much of the unrest has been in tribal areas that form the backbone of support for the monarchy and rely heavily on state employment and welfare.
Jordan has witnessed several bouts of civil unrest in poorer provincial regions in recent decades, usually caused by rising prices of essential goods.