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Jordanians protest over fuel price rises

Jordanian military personnel and civilians attend the funeral of a senior police officer in the southern city of Jerash who was killed in riots the previous day. - AFP
Jordanian military personnel and civilians attend the funeral of a senior police officer in the southern city of Jerash who was killed in riots the previous day. - AFP

AMMAN: Jordanians staged sit-ins on Friday and activists called for more protests over fuel price rises that have added to a cost-of-living squeeze, a day after riots in a southern city left one police officer dead, witnesses and security sources said.

The authorities said the policeman was killed on Thursday night by a gunshot fired by an unidentified individual when armed officers entered a neighbourhood of Maan to quell riots. Youths had attacked government property in the city, witnesses said.

Tensions have mounted in Maan and several cities in southern Jordan in particular after sporadic strikes by truck drivers protesting against high fuel prices and demanding cuts in diesel prices. Fuel rises have added to the squeeze on households.

Interior Minister Mazen Farrayeh told a news conference that the government will apply tough steps and redeploy more anti-riot police against demonstrators who protest violently.

"We have seen a large jump in violent acts," he said. "After what happened, there will be tougher security measures to reinforce the security forces in the areas that witness such acts."

Although the streets were calm on Friday, sporadic protests continued with a sit-in in front of Maan's main mosque and a mosque in the capital Amman after Friday prayers, while activists called for more demonstrations.

Overnight, riot police chased scores of youths throwing stones in Amman, Zarqa, Irbid and other cities where Farrayeh said rioters torched public property, vandalised state buildings and burned tyres that closed major highways across the kingdom.

Internet users and activists said Internet services faced slowdowns in several regions, disrupting social media platforms activists used to share footage of clashes with police.

The government has promised to examine truck strikers' demands but says it has already paid more than 500 million dinars ($700 million) to cap fuel prices this year and cannot do much more if it wants to avoid breaching an International Monetary Fund deal.

Other protests in recent years have usually been peaceful and involved demands for democratic reforms and calls to curb corruption.

Another driver quoted by the channel asked: "What would we say to a government whose people couldn't afford food, warmth, and fuel? Is this what we deserve from the government?"

The NetBlocks Internet monitor reported that TikTok had been restricted in Jordan "on multiple internet providers".

The PSD said it protects freedom of opinion and peaceful expression but would use "appropriate" force against rioters and vandals.

Government spokesman Faisal Shboul on Twitter said the cabinet condemned the attack "and affirms that the hand of justice will extend to the killers and refer them to a fair judiciary to receive their punishment".

The United States, on Thursday said US government personnel had been restricted from both personal and official travel to the provinces of Karak, Tafilah, Maan, and Aqaba until further notice.

This was because of "reports of ongoing protests, burning tyres, and throwing stones at vehicles on streets and highways throughout Jordan and particularly in the south," the US Embassy in Jordan said.

The World Bank says Jordan is heavily in debt and faces around 23 per cent unemployment.

The kingdom relies extensively on foreign aid, of which the US in September committed to provide $10.15 billion between 2023 and 2029.

Around 675,000 refugees from neighbouring war-torn Syria are registered with the United Nations in Jordan. Amman estimates the real figure to be about twice that and says the cost of hosting them has exceeded $12 billion.

With multiple tensions around this part of the world, France's Elysee Palace said in early December that a regional summit would take place in Jordan "before the end of the year".

French President Emmanuel Macron is to attend, the palace said at the time after he held a phone call with Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al Sudani. - AFP

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