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Protesters March in Jordan Against Deployment of US Troops

Jordanian protesters rallied today against US forces in the country, reports Elizabeth Whitman from Amman.
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AMMAN, Jordan — Demonstrators gathered in downtown Amman today, April 26, following afternoon prayers to protest the sending of American troops to Jordan.

"No Americans in our country," blared the voice of one young man over a set of speakers in the back of a pickup truck. The crowd repeated the chant as another stepped up to the microphone, calling out, "We reject the American army's presence in Jordan!"

The United States announced on April 17 that it would deploy up to 200 US troops to Jordan's northern border with Syria to potentially help secure chemical weapons or deal with possible spillover from Syria.

The demonstrators congregated in two marches, both assembling after Friday prayers at King Hussein mosque in downtown Amman before proceeding in opposition directions.

Of the marchers that walked toward the Royal Court, some carried signs that read, "No to the presence of American forces in Jordan," while different chants praised the strength of the Jordanian army. The protesters were a mix of young and old participants, mostly men, though some women were present.

Raheel Saleem, a student at the University of Jordan and a member of Harak Shababi, a youth movement, said that the protest was intended to send a message to Jordan's King Abdullah that "we don't agree" with having US troops on Jordanian soil. Nor did they agree with "Americans having their hands in Syrian affairs," she said.

Farouq Arar, a political activist at the march, agreed, adding that Jordanians would not accept the United States striking Syria the way it did Iraq.

Jordanian police formed a box around the demonstrators that headed toward the Royal Court, lining up in front, behind and alongside the demonstrators, as shop owners and other passersby looked on, eating falafel sandwiches and drinking freshly pressed juice.

"We came out to affirm our rejection of foreign forces on Jordanian lands," said Mohandas Abdul Hadi Al Hawamdi, an engineer who came from the northern city of Jerash to protest, noting that he was referring specifically to American troops.

"We reject the interference of Jordanian troops in any foreign battle," he added, emphasizing, "We did not come down to defend any regime."

King Abdullah "cannot decide for the Jordanian people," said Al Hawamdi.

Demonstrators also burned a mock American flag as the march began and repeated the act toward the end, when they gathered in a circle and danced, chanting about Ali Baba and the forty thieves.

King Abdullah is currently in Washington, DC and will meet with US President Barack Obama this evening, when they are expected to discuss options for dealing with the Syrian crisis as well as economic and political reform in Jordan, according to the White House.

The United States announced on Thursday that its intelligence had "varying degrees of confidence" that the Syrian regime had used chemical weapons "on a small scale" in Syria. The United Kingdom has also pointed to "limited but growing" evidence of the use of chemical weapons.

Obama has called the use of chemical weapons a "red line," but whether the latest findings mean that that line has been crossed is not yet clear. When announcing that Syria had used chemical weapons, US Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel noted, "We still have uncertainties about what was used, what kind of chemicals was used, where it was used, who used it."  

The Islamic Action Front, the political branch of the Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan, has also denounced the presence of American troops in Jordan, issuing a statement last Friday, April 19 condemning the troops' presence and calling for the Jordanian government to rethink its authorization.

Elizabeth Whitman is a freelance journalist based in Amman, Jordan. She has written for The Nation, Al Jazeera and Inter Press Service. Follow her on Twitter: @elizabethwhitty.

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