AMMAN — A relative calm prevailed throughout Jordan on Saturday, following 72 hours of violent protests against increased fuel prices that led to dozens of injuries and more than 200 arrests across the country.
Life largely returned to normal in Amman and the outlying governorates Saturday morning as shopkeepers reopened their stores and authorities scaled back security services’ presence along major roadways and commercial centres.
Eyewitnesses reported a security presence in Karak and Tafileh — the only two cities that witnessed large-scale violence Friday night — with military tanks and Gendarmerie Forces stationed around major commercial districts.
There were no street demonstrations during the day as opposition groups and grass-root protest coalitions held a series of meetings to decide “the next steps” in their campaign protesting against a government decision to lift fuel subsidies.
Activists said they intend to return to the streets Saturday evening, with rallies planned for Karak, Tafileh and Amman.
By Saturday afternoon, no location or time had been set for the evening rallies.
Saturday’s relative calm comes after four days of violent protests triggered by a government decision to raise fuel prices late Tuesday which, according to authorities, resulted in 100 separate riots that led to over 70 injuries and the death of one citizen.
Sporadic clashes between protesters and security personnel were reported across Jordan late Friday.
According to the Public Security Department, the bulk of the clashes occurred in southern Jordan, where leftist and Islamist activists held a series of rallies to denounce the government decision to lift fuel subsidies.
A peaceful rally degenerated into violence in the city of Tafileh, 195 kilometres south of Amman, when anti-riot forces prevented some 200 protesters from marching towards the governorate headquarters, according to the police.
Gendarmerie Forces resorted to tear gas to disperse the protesters 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 protesters in the city of Karak, 140km south of the capital, after demonstrators attempted to storm the governorate’s 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 grass-root 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 protesters to relocate the evening rally to the east Amman neighbourhood of Jabal Al Nuzha.
Also Friday evening, security forces prevented some 50 activists from marching onto the Royal Court. The protesters, the bulk of whom are affiliated with the Hai Al Tafayleh popular movement, joined Nuzha 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 protesters called on the authorities to reverse the decision, chanting “the Jordanian people will not stand down”.
Also on Friday, thousands of citizens hit the streets in leftist- and Islamist-led rallies to protest the measure 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-protesters.
The demonstrations marked the fourth straight day of protests, which, according to authorities, also resulted in the death of one person who the police said was with a group of gunmen storming a police station in the northern Irbid Governorate.
Riots erupted within an hour of the government decision last Tuesday, which led to an immediate 33 per cent rise in fuel prices and a doubling in cooking gas price.
In the first 72 hours of the nationwide protests, some rioters torched government buildings, looted shops and banks and stormed police stations.
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 grass-root 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.