Security forces clashed with rioters in cities stretching from Irbid to the southern city of Maan late Thursday, renewing violent protests that have led to damaged government buildings, dozens of injuries and one fatality.
According to eyewitnesses, rioters traded gunfire with anti-riot forces in the southern cities of Karak and Tafileh, as hundreds of citizens attempted to torch various public buildings in protest of the government decision to lift fuel subsidies.
The riots continued after calm prevailed during daytime.
According to the Public Security Department (PSD), security forces fired tear gas to disperse some 100 rioters in Tafileh after clashes left four Gendarmerie personnel “seriously injured”.
Meanwhile, police forces dispersed 100 protesters in the city of Maan, 220 kilometres south of the capital, after rioters attempted to storm the town’s police headquarters.
Riots also rocked the city of Salt, hometown of Prime Minister Abdullah Ensour, where some 2,000 activists turned out to urge the government to rescind the decision.
While violence continued in the governorates, the streets remained largely calm in Amman as police officials prevented a planned mass rally near the Interior Ministry Circle.
According to eyewitnesses, Gendarmerie Forces used tear gas to disperse Islamist and independent activists who attempted to gather at the circle, a major conjunction that links Amman with the northern governorates. Police have pledged that it will remain open to traffic.
Over 100 arrested in 48 hours
Meanwhile, authorities announced the arrest of over 150 individuals in connection with Tuesday’s and Wednesday’s violence, vowing to take a tougher stance on ongoing acts of vandalism across the country.
In an Amman press conference, PSD Director Maj. Hussein Majali revealed that authorities arrested 158 individuals in the first two days of the riots, many of whom allegedly held previous criminal records, as well as two Syrian nationals.
Security officials say the riots represented unprecedented attacks on police unseen in Jordan’s history, with 57 security personnel injured within the two-day period, seven of whom are reported in critical condition.
Approximately 17 citizens were injured in the two nights of violence, according to the police.
During the first two days of violence, the PSD reported 25 incidents in Irbid and Jerash, 20 in the southern region, eight in the badia regions and 15 separate riots and acts of vandalism in Amman alone, Majali revealed.
In addition to extensive damage to various public institutions, Majali revealed that several private businesses and properties were targeted by rioters, including three separate attacks on banks in Salt and military and civil service consumer corporation warehouses.
Majali accused criminal elements of taking advantage of rising public anger for personal gain, noting that one of the several incidents reported by the police during the two-day period included a citizen stealing JD75,000 from a bank’s ATM.
“What is the link between damaging stores, burning banks and stealing cars with a government decision to raise fuel subsidies?” Majali remarked.
Meanwhile, authorities vowed to change their “soft approach” to protesters should violence in the streets continue.
“If marches and protests remain peaceful, we will maintain our soft approach with protesters we have employed for the past 22 months,” Majali said.
“But if protesters act outside of the law and target us with force, we will change our approach as we deem appropriate.”
“We will continue to uphold citizens’ constitutional right to freedom of expression, but we will not allow citizens to break the law, tarnish state symbols undermine the Constitution or Jordan’s dignity,” Majali stressed.
Also on Thursday, the Omari tribe of northern Jordan implicated the government in the death of one of its members during riots late Wednesday, accusing security officials of opening fire on “civilians”.
In a statement, the tribe accused police forces of killing 23-year-old Qais Omari “in cold blood” late Wednesday, refusing to claim his body until the government “unveils the criminals” behind his death.
Authorities reject the accusations, insisting that Omari was one of a group of gunmen who stormed a police station near the city of Irbid and sparked a firefight with security officers that left 10 police officers and four attackers wounded.
“The police refrained from using force until the group of attackers shot a guard at the entrance and stormed the police station. This was a case of self-defence,” Majali said during the press conference.
Omari’s death marks the first fatality in the series of riots, which were launched within an hour of the government’s decision late Tuesday.
Earlier on Thursday, the Senate issued a statement condemning the violence, calling on citizens to refrain from protesting in order to “deprive conspirators the opportunity” to undermine the country’s national security and unity.
While acknowledging citizens’ constitutional right to “civilised, peaceful” freedom of expression, senators denounced acts of violence and vandalism which threatened to “destroy the country” as well as “jeopardise citizens’ safety and the homeland’s future”.
Meanwhile, the Muslim Brotherhood-backed “Higher Council for Reform” called on His Majesty King Abdullah to intervene and reverse the Cabinet decision, which led to an immediate 33 per cent rise in diesel and kerosene prices and more than 50 per cent in cooking gas prices.
In a statement posted on the Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood’s website, the organisation called on the King to issue an “emergency decision rescinding the raise in fuel prices” and the formation of a “national salvation government” comprising various political and social groups from across the Jordanian society.
In a highly anticipated move, the government lifted fuel subsidies late Tuesday, raising the price of 90-octane gasoline by 15 per cent and diesel and kerosene by some 33 per cent, and cooking gas cylinder by 53 per cent.
The government has defended the move, which aims to erase some JD800 million in subsidies it claims is forcing the country into a financial crisis. Part of the sum will be disbursed among low-income households.
Opposition parties and grass-roots popular movements have vowed to go ahead with nationwide demonstrations on Friday despite the rising violence, urging citizens to express their rejection of the price rise in a “peaceful, civilised manner”.
During the protests, slated for Amman, Karak, Tafileh, Salt, Aqaba, Maan and Jerash, activists are also expected to urge the government to release citizens arrested since the outbreak of the clashes.
Security officials warned activists against encouraging acts of violence during the protests, which are set to witness heightened security procedures and several road closures across the country.