Jordan's King Abdullah II swears in new Cabinet, premier vows to maintain security while nurturing reform

Jordan's King Abdullah II today swore in a new Cabinet headed by his former national security chief, who pledged to restore the nation's reputation as a haven of stability in the volatile Mideast following this month's triple suicide attacks in this kingdom's capital, Amman.

Prime Minister Marouf al-Bakhit told Abdullah after the brief ceremony that "security and stability will remain a Jordanian distinction, despite the terrorist incident which targeted innocent people in the capital of your kingdom."

Al-Bakhit was designated prime minister in the wake of the Nov. 9 triple hotel blasts that killed 63 people, including three Iraqi suicide bombers. The al-Qaida in Iraq terror group headed by Jordanian-born militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi claimed responsibility for the attacks.

Abdullah issued a royal decree endorsing al-Bakhit's 24-member Cabinet, including nine holdovers _ mainly the economic team, such as the trade and industry and planning portfolios _ from the outgoing Cabinet of Prime Minister Adnan Badran, which resigned Thursday. State-run Jordan Television showed clips of the swearing-in ceremony at Basman Palace.

The decree said al-Bakhit, an army major general for 35 years until he entered political life in 1999, retained the defense portfolio _ like all his predecessors. The foreign affairs portfolio was given to Abdul-Illah al-Khatib, a moderate politician who served in the same capacity in previous governments. The only female minister _ Suhair al-Ali _ retained her post as planning minister. Three other women Cabinet ministers vacated their positions.

Eid al-Fayez, who hails from the Bedouin tribal background that forms the bedrock of support for Abdullah's Hashemite dynasty, was named interior minister. The new Cabinet is a largely technocratic, "well-qualified team to carry out the duties designated by King Abdullah," said political analyst Mousa Kilani. The Cabinet must seek a vote of confidence from the 110-member parliament, which is expected to convene from a summer recess next week.

The Amman suicide bombings only "strengthened our resolve to continue our pre-emptive war on terrorism and the Takfiri culture, which is alien to our society," he added, referring to the ideology of Muslim militants who regard all Muslims who disagree with their doctrine as infidels.

Al-Bakhit said Jordanians were aware that militant Islam was contradictory to the human, civilized and moral values of Islam and warned that Jordan's "higher interests are a red line, which no one will be allowed to trespass."

Al-Bakhit vowed to press ahead with reforms, saying they will "neither be unilateral, nor just slogans, but a comprehensive and integrated program." An early step would be introducing new laws governing parliamentary elections and political parties. Hard-line opposition groups criticize both laws as restrictive and aimed at strengthening state control.

The new prime minister also promised dialogue with the entire Jordanian political spectrum and participation of all in decision-making, particularly on issues related to national policies, including socio-economic plans. A top priority would be to fight rampant poverty and unemployment through programs to be outlined soon, he added.

On Thursday, Abdullah designated al-Bakhit to form a new government and launch a "relentless" war on Islamic militancy, while pressing ahead with economic and political reforms, the AP reports. But al-Bakhit has denied the hotel bombings were the reason for the major reshuffle of the kingdom's government.


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