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Activists demand change in peaceful Jordan protest

By Amy Hybels, For CNN
Pro-government and anti-government demonstrations took place in the center of Amman, Jordan, on Friday.
Pro-government and anti-government demonstrations took place in the center of Amman, Jordan, on Friday.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Anti-government protesters want faster political reform
  • Pro- and anti-government groups clashed last week
  • This week, police kept the two groups separated
  • The protest comes as demonstrations spread across the Middle East and Africa
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Amman, Jordan (CNN) -- A large demonstration in downtown Amman on Friday ended peacefully a week after clashes erupted between pro-government and anti-government demonstrators near the Al Husseini Mosque.

On Friday, rows of police officers separated pro-government supporters from anti-government protesters. Some in the pro-government march carried a large Jordanian flag and posters of the king. Many in the large group of anti-government protesters, which spanned several blocks, waved Jordanian flags, banners and signs.

A small boy held a sign over his head which read, "No to thugs-Yes to freedom."

Police said four activists were injured last Friday during clashes, one of which involved demonstrators calling for political reform and a group of men with sticks. Some of the protesters say police failed to protect the demonstrators from what they described as an attack.

Lt. General Hussein Majali, the public security directorate chief, said there were 20 officers on site last week when the clashes broke out and the reserves -- who were about five minutes away -- were called in and they changed their tactics accordingly. When asked about police intervention during the second incident, Majali said, "It could have been faster."

During the second clash he said, "the people came running and the police ran also and even worked to separate them."

Police have tried to maintain a minimum presence during the marches to reduce tensions between police and protesters.

Police presence during this week's demonstration increased significantly.

The government has called for an investigation into the attacks.

Minister of Justice Hussein Mjalli formed a committee that is now conducting an independent investigation into the attacks. Mjalli said that two suspects have been placed under arrest in connection with the case, and warrants have been issued for the arrest of another 11 suspects.

This week's protest was the latest in a string of protests throughout the country and came as anti-government protests have spread across the Middle East and north Africa.

During Friday's downtown demonstration, at least one pro-government demonstrator, Nedal Dudin, tried to find some common ground between the groups.

"We are here today to prove that we are all Jordanian," he said.

Meanwhile, the much larger group of anti-government protesters, including a mix of independent activists marching alongside leftists, Baathists, Islamists and youth activists, made it clear the time for change is now.

The Popular Unity Party's youth party chief Fakher Da'as said his group wants to see a new elections law within two months, rather than the three-to-nine-month plan the government has proposed.

The Islamic Action Front (IAF), the political arm of the Jordan branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, participated in Friday's demonstration after steering clear of the downtown marches for two weeks, participating in demonstrations in front of the Egyptian Embassy and organizing other activities instead.

Nimer Al-Assaf, deputy secretary general of the IAF, said the group's decision to join to protesters this week was motivated in part by concern over the attack on demonstrators last week.

"We are here to say to the government we want you to take serious measures against the people who attacked the demonstrators last week."

Hamza Mansour, secretary general of the IAF echoed those concerns, saying, "We're here today to condemn the 'baltaja' (acts of thugs) that we've seen in the streets of Amman."

He added that the group also joined Friday's demonstration to reassert the right of peaceful expression and their demands for reform.

He said while the government has started with positive steps, like the progress made on amending the public meetings law, it's not enough.

"We need them to speed things up," Mansour said during Friday's march. "We want fast, constitutional reforms that will lead us to a parliamentary government. We want reforms that will make the parliament a true representative of the Jordanian nation."

Mansour said the IAF and other opposition groups recently sent a letter to Bakhit asking for the new elections law and the political parties law to be addressed within two months.

The government, meanwhile, has announced the formation of a national dialogue committee headed by the prime minister and eight ministers that will spend the next three-to-nine months engaging with groups across the political spectrum in order to come up with proposals for revising the two laws.

Last Sunday, King Abdullah II told his new government to enact "real and quick reform" amid growing protests around the Middle East, promising to root out corruption and give lawmakers a bigger role in government.

Khalid Kalaldeh, secretary general of the Left Social Movement remarked, "Yes, we heard the king's speech but we have to see that on the ground, the government has to take some actions to apply this speech, until that time we are marching."

While there was an announcement at the march to return downtown on March 4 to demonstrate, the IAF and the Muslim Brotherhood say they now plan to meet with other opposition party leaders Monday night before announcing final plans for next Friday.

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