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Jordan's King Abdullah (2nd R), his wife Queen Rania (R), Crown Prince Hussein (2nd L) and Princess Muna (L) attend a ceremony to mark the desert kingdom's 70th Independence Day in Amman, Jordan, May 25, 2016. REUTERS/KHALIL MAZRAAWI/POOL

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By Suleiman Al-Khalidi

AMMAN (Reuters) - Jordanian King Abdullah swore in a new government led by a business-friendly politician on Wednesday, charging him with preparing for parliamentary elections by September and pushing legislation to spur sluggish growth.

Hani Mulki, 64, who has held a string of senior diplomatic and ministerial posts, is a former chief commissioner of Jordan's economic zone in the Red Sea port city of Aqaba.

He was appointed by the king on Sunday to replace Abdullah Ensour shortly after the monarch dissolved parliament as it neared the end of its four-year term. Elections must be held within four months under the constitution.

Official sources said the government is expected to maintain traditional support for U.S. policies in the region and continue with International Monetary Fund-guided reforms.

Long-serving Foreign Minister Nasser Joudeh and Finance Minister Omar Malhas, who is negotiating a new programme with the IMF, kept their posts in a 28-member cabinet dominated by a mix of technocrats and conservative politicians who held sway in previous governments.

Mulki will be overseeing preparations for elections that have long been marred by accusations of meddling by the authorities and the powerful security forces.

Jordan's main political opposition comes from the Muslim Brotherhood movement but it faces increasing legal curbs on its activities, leaving mostly pro-monarchy parties and some independent Islamists and politicians to compete in these elections, political analysts say.

The Brotherhood, wants sweeping political reforms but stops short of demanding the overthrow of the monarchy in Jordan.

Analysts say it could be difficult for the Brotherhood, which has operated legally in Jordan for decades, to participate in the election after the authorities closed many of its offices and encouraged a splinter group to legally challenge the main movement's licence to operate.

Western diplomats and independent politicians say the absence of the group, which has strong grassroots support in urban centres, could undermine the legitimacy of the election.

Western donors have pushed Jordan's authorities to widen political representation to stem radicalisation among alienated and unemployed young people in poor overcrowded areas. Hundreds of them have already joined jihadists in Syria and Iraq

The monarch also charged Mulki in a letter of appointment to help spur investment, especially from main Gulf oil producer Saudi Arabia, which has shown interest in investing in the debt-laden kingdom that official sources say is tied to Amman becoming more supportive of Riyadh's regional policies.

Jordan's finances have been hit by a drop in Gulf aid which traditionally tops up its coffers and worsened investor confidence hit by regional uncertainty. The economy has also been strained by a flood of refugees from the five-year-old civil war in neighbouring Syria.

(Reporting by Suleiman Al-Khalidi; Editing by Jeremy Gaunt)

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