Jordan's King fires Cabinet, Palestinians to hold elections

Jordan's King Abdullah II fired his government on Tuesday in the wake of street protests and asked an ex-Prime Minister to form a new Cabinet, ordering him to launch immediate political reforms. Meanwhile, the Palestinian government in the West Bank said on Tuesday it would hold local council elections “as soon as possible” even as a group of Syrian online activists is promoting a day of anger after prayers this Friday to call for a peaceful “2011 Syrian revolution” to end what they say is corruption and tyranny.

The Jordanian move follows several large protests across the country — inspired by similar demonstrations in Tunisia and Egypt — calling for the resignation of Prime Minister Samir Rifai, who is blamed for a rise in fuel and food prices and slowed political reforms.

A Royal Palace statement said King Abdullah accepted Mr. Rifai's resignation tendered earlier on Tuesday.

The King named Marouf al-Bakhit as his Prime Minister-designate, instructing him to “undertake quick and tangible steps for real political reforms, which reflect our vision for comprehensive modernisation and development in Jordan,” said the palace statement.

Mr. Bakhit previously served as Jordan's Premier from 2005-2007.

The King also stressed that economic reform was a “necessity to provide a better life for our people, but we won't be able to attain that without real political reforms, which must increase popular participation in the decision-making”.

He asked Mr. Bakhit for a “comprehensive assessment ... to correct the mistakes of the past”.

When he ascended to the throne in 1999, King Abdullah vowed to press ahead with political reforms initiated by his late father, King Hussein. Those reforms paved the way for the first parliamentary election in 1989 after a 22-year gap, the revival of a multiparty system and the suspension of martial law in effect since the 1948 Arab-Israeli war.

But little has been done since. Mr. Bakhit is a moderate politician, who served as Jordan's Ambassador to Israel earlier this decade.

He holds similar views to King Abdullah in keeping close ties with Israel under a peace treaty signed in 1994 and strong relations with the United States, Jordan's largest aid donor and long-time ally.

Palestinian elections

The Palestinian move appeared to be a response to unrest in Egypt.

The Palestinian Authority has not held elections since 2006, leaving the President and Parliament members in office after their elected terms ended.

Prime Minister Salam Fayyad's Cabinet said on Tuesday it would set election dates during its next session, probably next week.

Mr. Fayyad hopes to hold the vote in both the West Bank and Gaza Strip. But Gaza will likely not participate since it is controlled by the rival Hamas militant group. There was no immediate response from Hamas.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas cancelled local elections in the West Bank in 2009 when it appeared that his Fatah movement would lose key seats to independents.

In Syria, the group has been using Facebook, which is officially banned but can easily be accessed through proxies, to call for a day of anger.

Its message, which has spread to Twitter, tells young Syrians to begin protests on Friday “after prayer, in what will be the first day of anger and civil rebellion by the Syrian people in all Syrian cities”.

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