AMMAN, Jordan — Jordan’s King Abdullah II ordered on Tuesday the release of 20 jailed pro-democracy activists, as he responded publicly for the first time to activists’ calls for “regime change” in the country.
In a royal decree issued Tuesday, the king ordered the government to release the activists, who have been jailed for more than a month for allegedly chanting anti-regime slogans and slandering the king.
Amman is expected to release the jailed protestors, two of whom have been hospitalized following a week-long hunger strike, early Wednesday, according to the group’s defense attorney, Mamoun Harasseen.
Also on Tuesday, the monarch criticized various protest groups for attempting to incite “sedition and chaos” in the country, publicly responding for the first time to calls for “regime change” in the country.
In a wide-ranging speech on the pace of political reforms in the country, Abdullah acknowledged that a “limited minority” of protest groups calling for the overthrow of the regime — a call he likened to the overthrow of “every individual in the society.”
“If the intention behind these slogans was to undermine the Hashemite umbrella of this country, then let me be absolutely clear: Governing for us Hashemites was never at any point a gain that we sought, but rather a responsibility,” the monarch said in a speech delivered at the royal palace to a group of some 3,000 officials, politicians and tribal leaders.
“Governing was never for us about holding a monopoly over authority, nor about power and its tools, but about supporting state institutions run by Jordanians from all segments of society, according to the provisions of our constitution. I will continue true to this path.”
Also during the speech, the king challenged the Islamist-led opposition to take part in the country’s upcoming parliamentary elections and achieve democratic reforms “under the dome of Parliament.”
“My message to you and to all political parties and forces is this: If you want to change Jordan for the better, there is a chance, and that chance is through the upcoming elections, and there is a way, and that way is through the next Parliament.”
The Muslim Brotherhood, Jordan’s largest political force, said the speech did little to sway it from abandoning a nationwide boycott campaign of the polls, which it claims are being held under an electoral system favoring regime loyalists at the expense of political parties.
“The king sent a clear message today, but our position on these elections and the needed reforms in the country are also clear,” Hamzeh Mansour, secretary-general of the Brotherhood’s Islamic Action Front party, told the German news agency dpa on the sidelines of the gathering.
“We need true political reforms placing people at the source of authority, and we have doubts that the current government can carry out these reforms.”
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Jordan has witnessed a 19-month-long protest movement calling for a series of sweeping reforms, the chief of which is the removal of the king’s constitutional authority to form governments.
Although Abdullah has repeatedly pledged that the incoming Parliament will form the next government, opposition groups say the assurances fall short of constitutional amendments ensuring that right.
Although Jordanian protesters have long restricted their demands to “regime reform,” rather than “regime change,” over the past month security forces have arrested several independent and tribal activists for allegedly chanting slogans insulting the king and calling for the regime’s overthrow.