|Protests by Islamist groups in Jordan are seperate from those demanding democratic reforms [AFP]|
Hundreds of protesters from Islamist groups in Jordan have clashed with supporters of King Abdullah II, wounding dozens.
A crowd of about 350 Salafis faced off with a slightly smaller group of monarchy loyalists in Zarqa, an industrial town north of the capital Amman on Friday.
Eighty-three policemen were wounded, including four who were stabbed by Salafis and are in critical condition, said police chief Lieutenant General Hussein Majali.
He said the attacking Salafis were armed with barbed wire, swords, knives and clubs. The police were unarmed, he said, but used tear gas to disperse crowds.
Majali said “eight civilians were also hurt when police fired tear gas and tried to stop Islamist Salafist demonstrators from attacking shoppers in Zarqa.” Officers arrested 17 Salafi protesters.
Abdul Qader Tahawi, a witness, said that he blamed the violence on plain clothes security personnel.
“They want us to stop our sit-ins to demand the release of our brothers in prisons. Our demands are peaceful and they wanted to provoke us,” he said.
Also on Friday, more than 2,000 Jordanians took to the streets throughout the country to press their demands for a greater political voice. About half of them demonstrated outside Amman’s municipal building after prayers.
They held a huge Jordanian flag and chanted, “We sacrifice our blood and soul for Jordan. Reform the system now”.
Police separated them from a small group of government loyalists who shouted threats: “Those who fight us, beware! Our rocks will smash your heads.”
The violence in Zarqa began when the Salafis rallied in front of the town’s mosque to listen to their leaders denouncing Jordan’s ties to the United States and calling for Sharia [Islamic law] in Jordan.
Government supporters gathered nearby to watch. One of them waved a framed portrait of Abdullah in the air and marched toward the Salafis.
The Salafis started to push him back, then beat him and he fell to the ground, his face bloodied.
Stone throwing and fistfights erupted, leaving many bloodied, until police intervened and convinced the government supporters to move farther away from the mosque.
The Salafi movement is banned in Jordan but it has grown in strength in recent years.
They have held a series of rallies in various parts of the country in recent weeks. But these are separate from the 14-week-old wave of anti-government protests demanding democratic reforms.
Unlike protests elsewhere in the region, Jordanians do not want their ruler to step down. Activists are asking for some of his powers to be curbed.
The pro-reform demonstrators are pressing for a series of changes to loosen the control of the king over the government, including popular elections for the prime minister, who is currently appointed by the king.
New laws on elections and political parties — key demands of the protesters — are expected to be presented to the government by month’s end, said Musa Barhouma, a national dialogue member, during the Amman demonstration.