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Jordan's Marouf Al-Bakhit Resigns, King Appoints New Prime Minister

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JORDAN
This is a Tuesday, Dec. 26, 2006, file photo of Marouf al-Bakhit as he speaks during a press conference in Amman, Jordan. (AP Photo/Nader Daoud, File) | AP File

AMMAN, Jordan — Jordan's King Abdullah II designated a well known international judge as his prime minister Monday, a royal palace statement said, replacing a premier who ran afoul of reformers.

The king instructed the new premier to swiftly open dialogue with opposition figures who have grown disgruntled with the pace of reform.

The appointment of Awn al-Khasawneh, a deputy chief of the Hague-based International Court of Justice, reinforces Abdullah's stated intentions of instituting reforms. The measures could include decentralization, fighting corruption, giving more independence to parliament and inviting the opposition into the government.

Al-Khasawneh, 61, a liberal, has cordial ties with the opposition, including Jordan's powerful Muslim Brotherhood.

"We were hoping that the Cabinet would be sacked, and we wish the prime minister-designate success in serving Jordan and its people," said Brotherhood spokesman Jamil Abu-Bakr.

Al-Khasawneh succeeds Marouf al-Bakhit, 64, who resigned earlier in the day after a majority of 70 out of 120 parliamentarians called for his ouster.

"The prime minister-designate has a clean slate domestically and internationally," said Amjad Adaileh, an adviser to the king.

Under al-Bakhit, dialogue with the Islamist opposition and their leftist allies has "reached a dead end," he added.

Al-Bakhit is a tough ex-army general who was widely seen as dragging his feet in implementing reforms. He was also accused of corruption during his earlier 2005-2007 tenure as prime minister.

Recently the king said he was frustrated with the pace of reform.

Al-Khasawneh – who served as a chief adviser to Abdullah's late father, King Hussein – is set to form his Cabinet ahead of a 3-day special meeting of the World Economic Forum, which opens in Jordan on Friday.

Al-Khasawneh has a reputation as a clean politician and is a noted legal expert.

Abdullah told al-Khasawneh to launch an "effective and constructive dialogue with all political groups," according to a designation letter obtained from the Royal Palace.

The king said priority should be given to changing the parliamentary election law. The Islamist opposition claims it was designed to undercut its influence through disproportionate distribution of seats, giving the king's loyalists a majority and producing docile parliaments.

Abdullah called for an independent council to supervise upcoming parliamentary elections and a constitutional court to review laws.

He also demanded a "resolute" government stance against corruption.

Later Monday, Abdullah named Maj. Gen. Faisal Shobaki as the country's intelligence chief, replacing Gen. Mohammed Raqqad, who held the post since 2008.

Pro-reform activists accused Raqqad of trying to intimidate them from staging protests.

Shobaki served in Jordan's intelligence for more than two decades before becoming ambassador to Senegal and later Morocco.

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