Jordan protests: Thousands rally over economic policies

Protesters in Amman, 21 January 2011 The biggest demonstration was in the capital, Amman

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More than 5,000 people have rallied in Jordan to protest over economic policy and call for the government to resign.

The protesters have taken to the streets over the past week, angered by rising prices and unemployment.

The government recently announced a $125m (£78m) package to reduce prices, as well as measures to boost salaries.

But demonstrators say the measures are insufficient, and that they will continue to protest until Prime Minister Samir Rifai steps down.

Friday's protests, dubbed the "Day of Rage", took place in the capital, Amman, and several other cities, and were the largest so far.

The demonstrators have been emboldened by demonstrations in Tunisia that led to the flight of former Tunisian leader Zine al-Abedine Ben Ali, the BBC's Dale Gavlak reports from Amman.

They include left-wingers and Islamists, and trade unionists.

'King should be guide'

The crowd in Amman directed chants at the prime minister: "Listen Samir, change is soon coming," they said. "The Jordanian people are on fire."

Protests in Tunisia spread after a man in the centre of the country set himself on fire. There have been a number of cases of self-immolation in other Arab countries.

Opposition groups in Jordan object to economic reforms introduced by Mr Rifai after he took office in November 2009.

The changes led to cuts in subsidies for basic commodities.

But the latest measures, which correspondents say are aimed at preventing protests from spreading, reverse the reforms.

Protesters also want the prime minister to be democratically elected rather than appointed by King Abdullah.

"The king should be the guide, not the executor of the country's daily affairs," said Hamza Mansour, the leader of Jordan's largest opposition group, the Islamic Action Front.

Jordan has a population of about six million. The official unemployment rate is 14%, though other estimates put it much higher, especially among the young.

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