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Sporadic clashes between demonstrators, police as fuel price protests continue

By Taylor Luck - Nov 16,2012 - Last updated at Nov 16,2012

AMMAN - Sporadic clashes between protestors and security personnel were reported across Jordan late Friday as nationwide demonstrations over rising fuel prices continued for the fourth consecutive day.

According to the Public Security Department (PSD), the bulk of the clashes occurred in southern Jordan, where leftist and Islamist activists held a series of rallies to denounce a recent government decision to raise fuel subsidies.

A peaceful rally descended into violence in the city of Tafileh, 195 kilometres south of Amman, when anti-riot forces prevented some 200 protestors from marching onto the governorate headquarters, according to the police.

Gendarmerie forces resorted to tear gas to disperse the protestors after participants began pelting anti-riot forces with stones and attempted to close off the main road into the city with burning tyres, police officials said.

Meanwhile, security forces fired tear gas on some 150 protestors in the city of Karak after demonstrators attempted to storm the region’s governorate headquarters, which was torched in a riot late Thursday.

While clashes continued in the south, relative calm prevailed in Amman late Friday as security forces prevented activists from gathering at the Interior Ministry Circle.

In anticipation of a mass rally called by grassroots popular movements, anti-riot police blocked off several roads leading to the circle, a critical junction linking east and west Amman, as well as the capital with the northern governorates.

The heavy security presence forced protestors to relocate the evening rally to the East Amman neighbourhood of Jabal Al Nuzha.

Also on Friday evening, security forces prevented some 50 activists from marching onto the Royal Court. The protestors, the bulk of whom affiliated with the Hay Al Tafayleh popular movement, joined the Al Nuzhah rally.

The skirmishes marred a relatively calm day of Friday protests which saw rallies in nine of the country’s 12 governorates end without incident.

The epicentre of Friday’s protests was in downtown Amman, where leftist and Islamist activists called for a general strike on Sunday in protest of Amman’s decision to liberalise fuel prices.

During the peaceful rally, which featured a heavy security presence, some 5,000 protestors called on the authorities to reverse the decision, chanting "the Jordanian people will not stand down."

In what marked a rare and provocative escalation in their slogans, a group of activists also chanted slogans calling for "regime change," claiming that it has "lost its legitimacy “with the measure.” The Muslim Brotherhood, Jordan’s largest opposition force, and leftist movements quickly distanced themselves from the slogans.

In a statement, Deputy Leader of Muslim Brotherhood Zaki Bani Rsheid stressed that the Islamist movement restricts its demands to “regime reform,” and does not call for the regime change.

A similar statement was made by leftist Tafileh activist Khaled Kalaldeh.

Also on Friday, thousands of citizens hit the streets in leftist- and Islamist-led rallies in the outlying governorates to protest the measure, with rallies in Salt, Tafileh, Karak, Maan and Mafraq.

All rallies ended peacefully, with the exception of the demonstration in Mafraq, where brief clashes were reported between participants and counter-protestors.

The demonstrations marked the fourth straight day of protests over the decision to lift fuel subsidies which according to authorities have resulted in nearly 200 arrests, over 70 injuries and the death of one person which the police said was with a group of gunman storming a police station in the northern Irbid governorate.

Riots erupted within an hour of the government decision late Tuesday, which led to an immediate 33 per cent rise in fuel prices and a doubling in cooking and heating gas prices.

In the first 72 hours of the nationwide protests, some rioters torched government buildings, looted shops and banks and stormed police stations, with the PSD reporting over 100 separate riots during the period.

On Thursday, the authorities vowed a "firm response “to the violence, accusing vandals and criminals of taking advantage of public anger for personal gains.

Activists and opposition parties have distanced themselves from the violence- claiming that the bulk of the riots are being carried out by spontaneous mobs that have no ties to any political or social group.

Despite the rising violence, the Muslim Brotherhood and grassroots protest coalitions have vowed to continue their protests until the government reverses the measure.

The government has defended its decision, claiming that the slashing of the JD800 million in subsidies was necessary to prevent the country from tipping into a financial crisis.

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