Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Anti-police violence mars Jordan king's visit

By JAMAL HALABY, Associated Press – June 13, 2011

AMMAN, Jordan – Angry young Jordanians attacked anti-riot police guarding
the motorcade of King Abdullah II on Monday, officials and eyewitnesses
reported, saying the monarch wasn't the target of the violence in a poor
southern town.

The spurt of violence, unusual here during months of unrest elsewhere in
the Arab world, pointed up the simmering tensions in Jordan, even a day
after the monarch bowed to popular protests and endorsed the idea of an
elected government.

Eyewitnesses said a crowd of about 60 people, mostly in their 20s, were
enraged at the Tafila mayor's barring young unemployed from a town meeting
with Abdullah, and at the harsh treatment by anti-riot police, who beat
them as they tried to line the sidewalk for the motorcade and present
petitions to the king.

A security official had said earlier that youths flung bottles and stones
at the motorcade in two incidents in Tafila, 200 kilometers (125 miles)
south of Amman.

The king was unharmed in the incidents, but 25 police were injured, said
this official, insisting on anonymity because he isn't authorized to
discuss royal matters.

Government spokesman Taher Edwan insisted it was not an attack on Abdullah.

"What happened is that a group of young Jordanians thronged the monarch's
motorcade to shake hands with him," he said. When police "pushed them
away, there was a lot of shoving."

The incident came a day after Abdullah, in a nationally televised speech,
acceded to a major demand of months of protests and announced he would
accept Cabinets formed by elected parliamentary majorities. That would
replace a system under which the king appointed the prime minister and
other ministers.

Four eyewitnesses said the violence was directed at the police, not Abdullah.

One witness, Tafila shopkeeper Yazan Abu Yousef, 26, said that as crowds
approached the motorcade leaving Tafila, to hand-deliver petitions to the
king, anti-riot police pushed them away "savagely" and people responded
with stones.

Another suggested Tafila's youth were upset that Mayor Salim Rawahneh
didn't allow them to attend the meeting with the king.

"The mayor invited people he favors and who live far away in Amman, but
not us," said the young unemployed man, who declined to be identified. "We
wanted to give petitions to the king, we wanted to tell him about our
difficulties in not finding jobs, but we were beaten and humiliated."

Similar accounts flooded the Internet, including Facebook.

Officials said Abdullah was on a fact-finding trip to inspect
infrastructure projects and hear his subjects' demands. A royal palace
official said Abdullah pledged 15 million Jordanian dinars (US $21
million) for a Tafila development fund, ordered free medical treatment for
the townspeople for the coming year, and announced that 1,000 townsmen
will be conscripted into the army, positions that bring medical and other

The palace official, who declined to be identified because he is not
allowed to speak to the media, said the king was unaware of what happened
until he left the area.

As violence has rocked other authoritarian countries across the Arab
world, it has been rare in Jordan, a key U.S.-allied nation where
pro-democracy protests in recent months have generally been confined to
relatively small and peaceful demonstrations.

The desert town of Tafila, which has received little government support in
the past, has high unemployment and lacks the shopping malls, movie
theaters and modern services found in the capital.

In announcing the parliamentary reform Sunday, Abdullah did not give a
timetable, saying that sudden change could lead to "chaos and unrest" in

It was the first time he has made such a concession to demands he loosen
the monarchy's absolute grip on power.

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