Jordan will “strike with an iron fist” rioters who use illegal means to express their anger over recent fuel-subsidy cuts, according to General Hussein Majali, director of the Public Security Department.
At least 17 civilians and 54 policemen have been injured, seven of them critically, in riots that followed the government’s Nov. 13 decision to cut subsidies on cooking gas and vehicle fuels. A Jordanian protester was killed as he joined an armed mob storming a police station in the northern city of Irbid, state-run Petra news agency reported earlier.
Majali said 158 protesters have been arrested nationwide, including two Syrians. Three banks in the northwest province of Balqa were robbed and burned, with 75,000 dinars ($106,000) stolen from one of them, he said.
Jordan imports almost all its fuel and relies on foreign aid and investment to cover deficits. Grants from abroad plunged by 98 percent to 25.8 million dinars in the first nine months of 2012 in the absence of donations from Arab states, the government said this month. The state is so short of money that it can’t pay for the cargoes carried by two fuel ships docked in the port of Aqaba, Prime Minister Abdullah Ensour said on Nov. 13.
Majali said that while freedom of expression is guaranteed, it should be peaceful. He said the government won’t allow anyone to “harm public or private facilities or citizens.”
As he spoke, hundreds of rioters smashed shops in downtown Amman less than 400 meters away, forcing nearby stores to close. During the past two days, demonstrators have attacked police stations with automatic weapons, closed roads with burning tires, looted and torched private and government institutions.
Jordan can control the situation and doesn’t see any reason at this stage to impose martial law, said Majali. “If the demonstrations are not in line with the constitution, we will use force to stop them,” he said.
The Muslim Brotherhood, which makes up the bulk of the opposition, has called a protest rally tomorrow. Hammam Saeed, the brotherhood chief, urged King Abdullah II to intervene and restore subsidies, saying Jordanians cannot shoulder the increased burden, according to a statement on the group’s website.
It is impossible for the government to reverse the measure, Ensour told Al Arabiya Television last night. It is designed to reduce an estimated 3.5 billion-dinar budget gap.
A similar government subsidy-cut plan two months ago was suspended by King Abdullah after public protests.