Protesters demanding reforms clashed with government supporters at Interior Ministry Circle in central Amman on Friday, pelting each other with rocks until security forces charged in and beat protesters, the Jordan Times reported.
The clashes, in which 120 were injured, were the most violent in more than two months of protests inspired by the popular uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt. One man, 55-year old Khairi Jamil Saad, was initially reported to have been killed while protesting but was later identified as a government supporter who died of a heart attack.
Protests in Jordan have been smaller and more orderly than those in other Arab nations, and have not sought the ouster of the country's relatively popular King Abdullah II. But Jordanians organizing the demonstrations said they are intensifying their campaign, demanding the removal of the prime minister, creation of a more reformist government, the dissolving of what is seen as a too-docile parliament and the dismantling of the feared intelligence department.
Hundreds of anti-government activists, many of whom coordinated the action through Facebook, vowed to sit in vigil in a central Amman square until their demands are met. Their numbers swelled to more than 1,500 during the day.
By afternoon, however, several hundred government supporters attacked the protesters, sparking stone-throwing clashes until some 400 riot police stormed the square. The pro-government crowd appeared to disperse as the security forces waded in, hitting protesters with clubs and firing water cannons. At least a dozen protesters were arrested.
Police chief Lt. Gen. Hussein Majali said said 120 were hurt, including 52 policemen. Eight people were detained for questioning.
Following the clash the government pledged to protect the freedom of expression, but stressed protests must be carried out responsibly and with respect for law. Officials warned that no protest would be allowed to disrupt public order or interfere with the lives of citizens, and advised those organizing demonstrations to stage them away from from vital intersections and market places.
“Freedom of expression is a right guaranteed by the Constitution for all citizens," Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Interior Saad Hayel Srour said yesterday at a press conference, "and the government and security agencies have been acting accordingly for the past 12 months.”
Srour reiterated that the violent clashes that erupted between pro-government and opposition protesters was a “black mark” in the country’s freedom record. However, he stressed, “it will not stop the government from carrying on with its reform efforts and protecting public freedoms."
Meanwhile, opposition parties, reformists and the March 24 Youth Movement on Saturday called for the resignation of the government and the leadership of the security forces, as well as the dissolution of the Lower House, holding these bodies responsible for the assault against protesters on Interior Ministry Circle Friday night.
Saturday's protests are the first to turn violent in the key US ally since the initial outbreak of violent protests on February 11, which forced King Abdullah to sack his prime minister, shuffle his cabinet, and directly engage opposition leaders in discussions on reform. The relative quiet since then is largely attributable to Abdullah's personal popularity and willingness to pursue reform.
"There is nothing to be afraid of," Abdullah said in the past regarding reforms.
Thousands Protest For the Government
Elsewhere, 3,000 pro-king loyalists took to the streets of the capital in two separate protests, waving portraits of the monarch and chanting "our lives and souls we sacrifice for you, King Abdullah."
Around 7,000 people reiterated pledges of loyalty to the king in demonstrations in the Red Sea port of Aqaba and the Jordan Valley, bordering Israel, the Petra state news agency said.
About 400 members of Islamic Action Front and their leftist allies also staged a demonstration outside Amman's Kalouti mosque, near the Israeli Embassy. They demanded an end to Jordan's 1994 peace treaty with Israel.
In the western city of Salt, some 300 Salafis - an ultraconservative Islamic sect banned in Jordan - protested, demanding convicted al-Qaida prisoners be released from Jordanian jails.