The violence over fuel price hikes in Jordan has escalated, as growing anger threatens to plunge the kingdom into a wave of unrest.
One armed civilian was killed and several policemen injured, some critically, when gunmen stormed a police station in Irbid, in the country’s far north, and fired on officers there on Wednesday night.
Another police station came under attack in the northern Amman suburb of Shafa Badran, where automatic weapons were used. One police officer was reportedly critically injured. A police official said the attackers took advantage of the protests to pursue a violent agenda.
In Salt, northwest of capital Amman, protesters set fire to a civil affairs office.
The scene was less deadly in Amman itself on Wednesday night, although up to 1,000 people had spilled onto the streets.
Hundreds of young men gathered at a usually busy road junction in the capital, facing off with riot police, who shot tear gas as tensions rose.
The unrest was not confined to the country’s north, as about 2,000 protesters in the city of Karak, about 140km south of Amman, shouted: “Down, down with you, Abdullah,” and “Get out and leave us alone” as they marched through the town on Wednesday, shattering shop windows, witnesses and police said.
The violence started on Tuesday night after news spread of the price increases, under which the cost of household gas will rise by 53 per cent and petrol around 12 per cent. The measure aims to rein in a bulging budget deficit and secure a $2bn loan from the International Monetary Fund.
Minutes after state television announced the price rises, several thousand Jordanians poured into the streets.
The hikes, followed by an 11 per cent increase in public transport fares, drew sharp condemnation from the opposition, which warned of civil disobedience in the run-up to January general elections.
“The street is seething with anger and an explosion is coming,” said Zaki Bani Irsheid, the leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, Jordan’s most powerful opposition group.
“We want to create a Jordanian Spring with a local flavour – meaning reforms in the system while keeping our protests peaceful.”
In Amman, around 500 demonstrators clashed on Tuesday with anti-riot police and hurled stones at them after they were prevented from holding a sit-in near the interior ministry on Gamal Abdel Nasser Circle.
They set tyres and garbage containers ablaze and tried to block the main road between there and nearby Firas Circle in Jabal Hussein neighbourhood, but police prevented them and fired tear gas, an AFP journalist reported.
“Jabal Hussein is a popular shopping area. Now all shops are closed. It has turned into a ghost town,” a resident told AFP.
Violent demonstrations broke out earlier this week across all 12 of Jordan’s governorates, police said.
Protesters burned tyres to block traffic, torched police and private cars and at least 20 government offices, including court buildings. Police said at least 120 people have been arrested nationwide.
In the northwestern city of Salt, tens of protesters unsuccessfully tried to storm the residence of Jordanian Prime Minister Abdullah Nsur, while in the southern city of Maan, demonstrators fired in the air to force riot police out of town, wounding one officer, police said in a statement.
Protesters have demanded the resignation of Nsur and his 36-day-old government. Police used tear gas and water cannons to break up the protest outside his home in Salt on Tuesday night.
Jordan has been hit by frequent, but small, anti-government protests over the past 23 months, but these demonstrations have squarely shifted the focus from the government to the king.