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Middle East
Protests Over Gas Prices in Jordan Turn Deadly
Raad Adayleh/Associated Press
Jordanian police officers prepared Wednesday to disperse demonstrators in downtown Amman.
By JODI RUDOREN and RANYA KADRI
Published: November 14, 2012
AMMAN, Jordan — A young man was killed and a dozen police officers were injured Wednesday night in the northern city of Irbid as demonstrations over increased gas prices stretched into a second day and opposition leaders scrambled to harness a spontaneous eruption of anger that spread throughout the kingdom, taking officials and opposition leaders by surprise.
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Riots Erupt Across Jordan Over Gas Prices (November 14, 2012)
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The demonstrations were the most aggressive in this politically fragile and strategically critical ally of the United States in the past two years, particularly outside the capital, where many protesters shouted slogans against King Abdullah II that previously would only have been whispered. Teachers went on strike, and other unions announced a two-hour work stoppage for Sunday. The crowds included first-time protesters and tribal members who have been the king’s political base.
“This is the beginning of the Jordanian Spring, Nov. 13,” declared Hassan Barari, a political science professor at the University of Jordan, where students blocked a main road near campus. “Because this is no longer a political thing; this is the lives of the people. If you go around to the tribes, this is the backbone of the king, they can’t afford anything. It can’t be worse.”
Analysts and activists said the outpouring since the reduction of gas subsidies on Tuesday was an important shift in the criticism of the leadership in recent months because many of the protesters were not affiliated with political parties, unions or the secular opposition movement.
“It’s popular and spontaneous; it was not called by activists and Islamists,” said Kamal Khoury, an activist and blogger. “It was regular people going crazy about what’s going on.”
Violence was most severe in Irbid, where the authorities said a police station was attacked by armed demonstrators, leading to the fatal shooting of Qasi Omari, 22, and injuries to a dozen police officers and four protesters. A police corporal was also injured when someone fired an automatic pistol from a moving car, the police said in a statement.
In Madaba, an ancient city that draws tourists to its holy sites, protesters tore down the king’s picture and burned it, according to an activist who was there, then smashed windows of several banks, pulling the furniture from one and setting it aflame. Witnesses reported the looting of a discount store for government employees in Salt, and the riot police in Tafileh firing bullets into the air. In Karak, a southern city known for its staunch support of the monarchy, protesters burned the house of the governor. “He’s representing the king, and our problem is with the king today,” explained Basel Beshapsheh, a longtime leader of antigovernment activities.
In Amman, dozens of officers in helmets and body armor blocked access to Dakhliyeh Circle, a popular sit-in site, so hundreds crowded in front of their line, chanting things like “The people know who is the corrupt guy.” The demonstration began peacefully, but after a few hours protesters threw rocks and burned tires, and officers responded with tear gas.
Sana Ghaith, an artist who said she earned about $211 per month, was a first-time protester who joined the Dakhliyeh gathering. “I can’t afford the living conditions,” she said to explain why she showed up. “I don’t want anything to happen in the country, but I want them to fix the prices. I’m divided. I’m angry, and I’m scared for the country.”
The catalyst for the outburst was the announcement on Tuesday that, facing a deficit of more than $3 billion, the government would reduce fuel subsidies, effectively increasing the price of gasoline for cars to $1.13 per liter from 99 cents, and of gas for cooking to $14.10 from $9.17.
Jaafar Hassan, Jordan’s planning minister, said in an interview on Wednesday night that the change was necessary because fuel costs had quintupled in the past two years, consuming 18 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product. He pointed out that unlike a price increase announced in September and withdrawn after a day of demonstrations, this one was coupled with a compensation package that would provide three-quarters of Jordanian households with $100 per person per year — something apparently lost on the protesters.
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A version of this article appeared in print on November 15, 2012, on page A14 of the New York edition with the headline: Protests Over Gas Prices in Jordan Turn Deadly.
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