Government Supporters, Police Attack Jordan Protest, One Dead
AMMAN, Jordan -- Protesters demanding reforms clashed with government supporters in the center of Jordan's capital on Friday, pelting each other stones until security forces charged in and beat protesters, killing one, as unrest intensified in this key U.S. ally.
The clashes, in which more than 100 were injured, were the most violent in more than two months of protests inspired by the popular uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt, and the death was the first of a protester since the unrest began.
Protests in Jordan have generally been smaller than those in other Arab nations – and in other difference have not sought the ouster of the country's leader, King Abdullah II. But the young Jordanians organizing the demonstrations said this week 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 docile parliament and the dismantling of the largely feared intelligence department.
Hundreds of anti-government activists – many of whom coordinated through Facebook – vowed to camp out in a central Amman square in front of the Interior Ministry in Amman until their demands are met. Their numbers swelled to more than 1,500 during the day to include members of the Islamic Action Front, Jordan's largest opposition party, and their leftist allies.
In the afternoon, several hundred government supporters attacked the protesters, sparking stone-throwing clashes until about 400 riot police stormed the square. The pro-government crowd appeared to disperse as the security forces waded in, hitting protesters with batons and firing water cannons. At least a dozen protesters were dragged into a nearby government building.
Islamic Action Front leader Hamza Mansour said party member and anti-government protester Khairi Jamil Saeed, 26, was "killed as a result of brutal police beating on his head and body."
"This is an atrocious crime and we blame it on Prime Minister Marouf al-Bakhit and his Cabinet," Mansour told The Associated Press. "The prime minister and the Cabinet must resign."
He said the Islamic Action Front was holding an "emergency meeting" to discuss steps to be taken to topple the prime minister.
Hospital officials said more than 100 people were admitted with serious to minor injuries to the head and the body. The officials insisted on anonymity, fearing government reprisal. An Associated Press reporter saw three police officers, their faces covered with blood, being taken away in ambulances.
One of the wounded, Mohammed Maaytah, 26, said he passed out after suffering an eye injury from a pelted stone.
"As I tried to get up from the ground, five policemen attacked me with batons and kept beating me until I passed out again," he said. "Police was supposed to protect us, but they attacked us."
Noor Smadi, 23, said she was also beaten by police until "I fainted."
"Our Cabinet is a bunch of criminals," she said. "They had policemen beat us savagely, although we insisted that our protest was peaceful."
Police officials on the scene said they had arrested protesters from both groups, though they gave no numbers. They spoke on condition of anonymity according to police protocol.
Foreign Minister Nasser said police had surrounded the protesters to protect them but were then caught in the middle when counter-demonstrators attacked the crowd. He told Britain's Sky News television that 62 demonstrators and 54 police were injured and that the death was from a heart attack "not as a direct result of the entanglement."
A similar clash broke out in the same square late Thursday, injuring 35 people.
Elsewhere in the Jordanian capital, around 3,000 pro-king loyalists took to the streets in two separate protests waving portraits of the monarch and chanting "our lives and souls we sacrifice for you, King Abdullah."
About 400 members of Islamic Action Front and their leftist allies also staged another demonstration outside Amman's Kalouti mosque, near the Israeli Embassy. They demanded and 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 in the city, demanding convicted al-Qaida prisoners be released from Jordanian jails.
Associated Press writer Dale Gavlak contributed to this report.