Protests continue in Jordan over price hikes

Jordanian gendarmerie policemen stand guard as protesters take part in a demonstration in Amman following an announcement that Jordan would raise fuel prices, including a hike on cooking gas, on 13 November 2012. (Photo: Reuters - Muhammad Hamed)

Published Friday, November 16, 2012

Protests were still ongoing in Jordan on Friday to denounce rising fuel prices, according to TV channel al-Mayadeen, amid violent altercations with the police which have left at least one demonstrator dead and 71 wounded.

Jordanian police forcibly dispersed protests on Thursday after demonstrators took to the streets in several parts of the capital as well as provincial cities. Protesters numbered only in the hundreds after supporters of the main opposition Muslim Brotherhood, which had said it would take part, did not show up, AFP correspondents said.

Washington acknowledged that Jordanians faced a "difficult economic situation" and said protesters had a right to demonstrate "as long as they do so peacefully."

But it said it backed planned reforms set out by Jordan's King Abdullah II against criticism from the Brotherhood that they do not go far enough in establishing a constitutional monarchy in which the prime minister is elected rather than appointed by the king.

In Amman, police twice fired tear gas to disperse protesters chanting slogans against the regime, deemed illegal under Jordanian law.

Some 300 had gathered near Gamal Abdel Nasser Circle, east of the city center, chanting "Down with the regime," and "Abdullah, where is the people's money? You keep on increasing fuel [prices]."

Police used loudspeakers to demand that the demonstrators leave "because you are breaking the law," before launching several volleys of tear gas canisters and making a number of arrests.
Police again fired tear gas when the protesters attempted to regroup nearby.

In the city center, police prevented a demonstration outside the Central Bank, but around 500 people held a sit-in near the landmark Roman amphitheater.

In the southern city of Tafileh, police said protesters had shot and wounded four officers.
"Around 150 protesters held a demonstration today, and some of them suddenly fired directly at police, wounding four of them," a statement said.

In the northern city of Irbid, where an alleged "gunman" was killed early Thursday during what authorities said was an attack on a police station, police used tear gas to disperse protesters who had blocked a main road.

Police chief Hussein Majali told a news conference that 158 people had been arrested in the past two days.

"Security forces will hit with an iron fist anyone who tries to affect the country's security. Peaceful demonstrations will be dealt with in a civilised manner," Majali told reporters.

He said police had recorded around 100 incidents of rioting, vandalism and theft across Jordan in 48 hours and that 71 people, including 54 policemen, had been wounded.

Twelve officers were injured early on Thursday when a group of "gunmen" attacked their police station in the northern city of Irbid, state-run Petra news agency reported, adding: "A gunman died in a shootout."

Majali said police "acted in self-defense" when they killed Qais Omari, 23, but Jordanian media quoted his father as saying that his son "was not carrying a weapon and did not attack police."

Prime Minister Abdullah Nsur has said the fuel price increases are necessary to help reduce a projected budget deficit of around $5 billion dollars this year.

But the Brotherhood's Hammam Said urged King Abdullah to intervene to reverse the price increases. "Jordanians cannot handle more burdens," he said.

Said added that a January 23 general election, which the Islamists have said they will boycott, "should be postponed as the current atmosphere is not conducive."

Saudi Arabia urged its citizens to stay away from public gatherings and universities in Jordan, state news agency SPA reported.

US State Department deputy spokesman Mark Toner said Jordan remained an "important strategic partner,” while acknowledging a “thirst for change” in the country.

"We support King Abdullah II's road map for reform and the aspirations of the Jordanian people to foster a more inclusive political process that will promote security, stability as well as economic development," he said.

(AFP, Al-Akhbar)

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