Jordan protesters intensify call for reform

Crowds gather in the capital Amman for a fourth day, demonstrating against cooking gas and petrol price increases.

Angry over the increasing cost of fuel, protesters have returned to the streets in Jordan’s capital, Amman.

Roughly 2,000 people gathered downtown on Friday afternoon to protest against a package of price increases, under which the cost of household gas will rise by 53 per cent and petrol by about 12 per cent, said Al Jazeera’s Nicole Johnston.

“But what’s different about this protest and the protests that were held last night is that people are now starting to call for the downfall of King Abdullah,” said Johnston. “We haven’t heard this in demonstrations before. This is quite unusual.”

Our correspondent also said that security presence was heavy and that crowds of monarchy loyalists had also started coming downtown, with police forming a line between them and the protesters calling for reform.

“Go down Abdullah, go down,” the protesters chanted as police, some in riot gear, largely stayed away from crowd, near the main Husseini Mosque.

The crowed also chanted “The people want the downfall of the regime”, the rallying cry of the Arab Spring uprisings that have shaken the Middle East and toppled leaders in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen.

“Shame. Shame. Prices are spiking and Abdullah gambles,” people shouted.

The Muslim Brotherhood, the country’s largest opposition group, had previously called on people to take to the streets, but top officials from the group chose not to participate in the rally.

The 50-year-old king has ruled since his father, King Hussein, died 1999.

Crackdowns threatened

Jordanian authorities have threatened to crack down on those who incite violence during protests with an “iron fist”, while opposition groups have pledged to continue demonstrations in the kingdom.

The protests, which erupted on Tuesday across the country, are the largest and most sustained to hit the country since the start of uprisings in the region nearly two years ago.

“We will hit with an iron fist those who violated the law by stirring unrest,” Hussein Majali, Jordan’s police chief, said on Thursday.

Armed men taking advantage of street chaos caused by the protests fired on two police stations late on Wednesday, wounding 17 people, including 13 police officers, officials said. One of the assailants was killed in the ensuing firefight.

Assailants 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.

In Salt, northwest of 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.

On Tuesday, nearly 500 demonstrators clashed with anti-riot police in the capital 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.

Bulding deficit

The violence started on Tuesday night after news of the price increases spread.

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 price rises, 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.”

Jordan has been hit by frequent, but small, anti-government protests over the past 23 months, but the recent demonstrations have squarely shifted the focus from the government to the king.

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies