Jordan's King Swears In New Cabinet

AMMAN, Jordan (AP) - Jordan's King Abdullah II swore in a new 27-member Cabinet on Wednesday in the wake of Egypt-inspired protests in his desert monarchy.

The reshuffle followed protests by thousands of Jordanians who had demanded jobs, reduced prices of food and fuel and a change to an election law that they say gives government loyalists more seats in parliament.

The new Cabinet includes holdover ministers, leftist unionists, a former member of the Muslim Brotherhood, Jordan's largest opposition group, and a prominent activist for women's rights.

The Brotherhood refused to join the Cabinet of new Prime Minister Marouf al-Bakhit.

Shortly after the swearing-in ceremony was broadcast on state television, the Brotherhood's political arm said the Cabinet's composition is not as important as the implementation of far-reaching change.

"This Cabinet is like previous ones, but what matters is whether the new ministers will deliver on promises of quick reforms," said Hamza Mansour, the leader of the Brotherhood's political arm.

Since the unrest in Tunisia and Egypt, Jordan's Brotherhood, their leftist allies and other protesters have demanded constitutional amendments to curb Abdullah's power in naming prime ministers and instead allow Jordanians to elect them by popular vote.

Under the constitution, the king has exclusive powers to appoint prime ministers, dismiss parliament and rule by decree.

"We must see a government elected from a parliamentary majority and not appointed by the king," said Zaki Bani Ersheid, a Brotherhood leader.

Abdul-Rahim Akour, the former Brotherhood member in the Cabinet, was named minister of religious affairs. He held a ministerial post under the king in the past decade.

A controversial appointment was Justice Minister Hussein Mjali, a fiery critic of diplomatic ties with Israel.

Mjali was the lawyer of Jordanian soldier Ahmed Daqamseh, who shot dead seven Israeli schoolgirls in 1997 while on a picnic near Jordan's western border with Israel. The incident shook the neighbors' nascent ties, prompting the late King Hussein, Abdullah's father, to go to Israel to express remorse.

The new Cabinet includes five holdovers from the outgoing Cabinet of Samir Rifai, who was sacked last week under pressure from protesters who blamed him for slow reforms and rising prices.

The heads of key ministries - foreign, interior and the economy - retained their posts from the old Cabinet. Like the new prime minister, Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh advocates close ties with the United States and Israel.

It remains to be seen if the ministers of finance and planning, the point men in dealing with U.S. aid, the International Monetary Aid and the World Bank, will balance those commitments with popular frustration over soaring unemployment, poverty and inflation.

As the Cabinet was sworn in, two anti-government protests were held in Amman. About 150 demonstrators affiliated with the Brotherhood gathered outside the Egyptian embassy, and 50 university students rallied outside parliament to demand a new election law.