AMMAN // More than 20 people have been arrested following riots in a southern Jordanian city that erupted after two people were killed in a brawl, police said yesterday.
Col Aref Wishah said the neighbourhood in Maan where the melee took place had been cordoned off and more suspects were being questioned. He promised further arrests.
"We closed the entrances of the city and the manhunt will continue until we capture all those involved in the rioting and vandalism," Col Wishah said.
The government said calm had been restored in Maan, 220km south of the capital Amman, a day after protesters ran riot after the funeral of two people who were killed on Monday by unknown assailants.
Hundreds of masked demonstrators set fire to municipal and court buildings, as well as to police vehicles and posts, civilian cars, shops and a petrol station, said police, who used tear gas to disperse the mob.
Residents told the Reuters news agency that the tumult followed the funeral of two workers from prominent Maan tribes who were believed to have been killed in a labour dispute on Monday by Bedouins from the powerful Hwaitat tribe.
They said Hwaitat tribe members were angered that rival tribes from the city of Maan were employed in their hometown in Shidiya, nearly 70km south of Maan, to build a multi-million dollar water project. Most of the businesses attacked in Maan on Tuesday belonged to members of the Hwaitat tribe. Government officials warned against attempts to foment further unrest.
"We will not tolerate any [party] who will seek to take advantage of the incidents in Maan governorate and disrupt the security and the stability of its residents," Saad Hayel Srour, the interior minister, told Jordan state TV on Tuesday.
The impoverished city has been the scene of violent civil unrest in recent years, and Muslim fundamentalists have long been active among its residents, many of whom carry weapons and have resisted pressure to disarm.
In 1996, riots erupted when the government eased subsidies on bread and fuel. Two years ago, rioters also clashed with police as they tried to prevent them from arresting suspects.
Also, inter-tribal violence has been on the rise not only in Maan but elsewhere in Jordan, where tribes, who are the original inhabitants of the country, form the backbone of support for the Hashemite dynasty.
Last month, 12 students at the University of Jordan in Amman were injured in a brawl in connection with student elections.
"Social unrest is raising the alarm bells in society and indicates that the public is losing its faith in the leaders of their society," said Hussein al Khozahe, a sociologist in Al Balqa Applied University in Salt.
In 2009, the kingdom suffered its worst economic performance since an economic crisis in 1989, when it was forced to seek help from the International Monetary Fund. The downturn is making it more difficult for the state to satisfy demands of Jordanians for state jobs as proceeds from foreign aid and tax revenues have shrunk, analysts say.
* With additional reporting by Reuters