Calls for ouster of Jordan's king grow at protests

Associated Press Modified: November 16, 2012 at 3:02 pm •  Published: November 16, 2012
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Despite the appearance of counter protesters, Jordanian authorities reported no clashes in the 10 demonstrations that took place across the country on Friday. Police and independent observers say some 7,000 people took to the street nationwide, compared with 12,000 on Tuesday.

Thousands of the pro-government loyalists had taken to the streets nationwide to support the king, waving batons and threatening his critics. "Abdullah is our king and God is our witness," some chanted.

Some 2,000 Palestinian refugees living in squalid settlements protested the price hike for a second consecutive day. Some in the three settlements — two of which are in the capital — threw stones at police, prompting volleys of tear gas.

The unrest in Jordan began late on Tuesday after the government raised prices for cooking and heating gas by 54 percent and some oil derivatives by up to 28 percent. In response, thousands of Jordanians poured into the streets, pelting riot police with stones and torching police cars, government offices and private banks in the largest and most sustained protests to hit the country since the start of the region's uprisings nearly two years ago.

Police say "outlaws" with criminal records took advantage of the disorder to rob banks and homes, attack police stations, courts and other government buildings and carry out carjackings. At least 157 people have been arrested since Tuesday.

Jordan has been hit by frequent, but small, anti-government protests over the past 23 months, but this week's demonstrations have shifted the focus from the government squarely to the king. So far, Abdullah has largely maintained control, partly by relinquishing some of his powers to parliament and amending several laws guaranteeing wider public freedoms.

But his opponents say the reforms are insufficient, and the violent protests Tuesday and Wednesday indicated many in Jordan are growing frustrated with the government's inability to address a host of trouble, mainly unemployment and poverty.

Jordanian government officials have accused the Muslim Brotherhood of inciting the unrest to score political points ahead of parliamentary elections in January. The fundamentalist group is boycotting the polls over disagreement with the government on an election law that it says favors pro-king loyalists.

Brotherhood spokesman Jamil Abu-Bakr, however, said his group "isn't against the king."

"Our followers in the protests did not call on his downfall," he said. "But we want him to seriously introduce real reforms to ease the popular agitation that may lead to an explosion in the street."