February 05, 2011

Anti-government protesters march in Jordan; crowds in Iraq call for end to corruption

Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum (Arabic محمد بن...Image by A. Davey via Flickr
DALE GAVLAK Associated Press
2:03 p.m. EST, February 4, 2011
AMMAN, Jordan (AP) — Hundreds of Jordanians inspired by Egypt's uprising on Friday staged a protest against Jordan's prime minister, installed just days earlier in response to anti-government marches.

However, Jordan's main Muslim opposition group said it wants to give the new leader a chance to carry out promised political reforms, and Friday's turnout was much smaller than in previous protests against rising prices.

The scenes of mass
protests in Egypt have riveted the Arab world, and unrest has spread to other countries, most recently Yemen where tens of thousands on Thursday called on their long-time president to step down.



However, expectations of large-scale protests in Arab countries after Friday's noon prayers, the highlight of the Muslim religious week, did not materialize.

In Syria, where authoritarian President
Bashar Assad has resisted calls for political freedoms, an online campaign calling for protests in the capital, Damascus, fizzled. Plainclothes police deployed in key areas of Damascus on Friday, and no protesters showed up.

In Iraq, residents seizing on the Egypt protests staged two small demonstrations to protest corruption in their own security forces, rampant unemployment and scant electricity and water supply.

About 100 Iraqis gathered in central
Baghdad's famous Mutanabi book market to complain about limited civil liberties and a lack of services. "No to the restriction of freedoms," read one of their banners.

Iraqi clerics warned leaders to heed public frustrations, or potentially face an uprising like those in Egypt and, a month earlier, in Tunisia.

Later Friday, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki appeared to address those concerns, at least symbolically, saying he planned to cut in half his annual salary. He is believed to make at least $360,000 a year.

The march in the Jordanian capital of Amman on Friday was far smaller than previous anti-government protests. Jordan's
King Abdullah II has tried to pre-empt further unrest by sacking his Cabinet earlier this week and installing a new prime minister, Marouf al-Bakhit, amid promises of political reform.

The Islamic Action Front, the political arm of Jordan's Muslim Brotherhood, said it is confident about change after meeting with the king and al-Bakhit, said a leader of the group, Nimer al-Assaf.

"We are very optimistic that change will happen," al-Assaf said after Friday prayers at a mosque near the prime minister's office where the activists gathered.

He said the opposition would give the new government a chance and that he did not expect further protests.

Friday's protesters in Amman included Islamists and supporters of other opposition groups.

Small protests took place in three other towns in Jordan.

"We want jobs and an end to corruption, which is making government officials rich on the expense of poor people like me," said unemployed Mahmoud Abu-Seif, 29, who joined some 150 marchers in the city of Karak.

Across the Muslim world, worshippers and leading clerics expressed support for the uprising in Egypt, where huge crowds of protesters have been pressing for President
Hosni Mubarak's ouster.

In
Malaysia's biggest city, Kuala Lumpur, hundreds marched outside the U.S. Embassy, calling on the U.S. to pressure Mubarak to resign immediately. Protesters, including many from Malaysia's Islamic opposition party, shouted "Down, down, Mubarak."

Police used water canons to break up the crowd and arrested several demonstrators. Police in Malaysia, a country with a Muslim majority, regularly break up protests deemed illegal.

Several thousand worshippers rallied outside a mosque in
Istanbul, Turkey, in solidarity with the Egyptian protesters. "No to dictatorship," read a huge banner hanging from a wall of the Beyazit mosque.

In the Turkish capital, Ankara, dozens of protesters marched toward Egypt's embassy. One of the speakers, Mehmet Pamak, head of the pro-Islamic Scientific and Cultural Research Foundation, branded Mubarak a puppet of
Israel.

Egypt was the first Arab country to sign a peace treaty with Israel.

In
Iran, top leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei told worshippers that Mubarak betrayed his people because of his close alliance with Israel and the U.S.

"America's control over Egypt's leaders has ... turned Egypt into the biggest enemy of Palestine and turned it into the greatest refuge for Zionists," Khamenei said.

"This explosion we see among the people of Egypt is the appropriate response to this great betrayal that the traitor dictator committed against his people," Khamenei said, without mentioning Mubarak by name.

Iran has portrayed the unrest in Egypt as a replay of the 1979 Iranian Revolution that toppled the pro-U.S. Shah and brought Islamic militants to power.

While Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood is perhaps most organized of the opposition factions, the protests have been driven by a loose alliance of diverse groups, including young, secular Egyptians.

The Brotherhood, which is officially banned, calls for rule by Islamic law in Egypt. But it has also cast itself in an uneasy partnership with pro-democracy advocate
Mohamed ElBaradei and other opposition groups.

In Madrid, members of the Spanish branch of the human rights group
Amnesty International handed the Egyptian Embassy what they said was a petition with 86,000 signatures supporting the Egyptian protesters.

Amnesty International members gathered outside the embassy and held up a banner that read "A New Egypt With Human Rights."

Associated Press writers Nasser Karimi in Tehran, Zeina Karam in Damascus, Lara Jakes in Baghdad and Selcan Hacaoglu in
Ankara, Turkey, contributed to this report.
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http://www.sun-sentinel.com/news/nationworld/sns-ap-ml-mideast-protests,0,370836,full.story
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