AMMAN // Jordanian police yesterday fired tear gas to disperse a demonstration by Salafists in the city of Zarqa after four policemen were stabbed and more than 80 others injured, a police spokesman said.
Col Mohammad Khatib said authorities were forced to intervene to prevent clashes between several hundred government loyalists and about 400 Salafists demanding the release of Salafist prisoners and the implementation of its ultraconservative interpretation of Sunni Islam.
"Several people tried to break up their rally, and there have been skirmishes with the two sides hurling stones at each other," Col Khatib said, adding that eight civilians were injured.
The Salafi movement is banned in Jordan, but has grown in strength in recent years. Salafists have held rallies across the country in recent weeks to demand the release of 90 Islamist prisoners, including Abu Mohammed al Maqdessi, the mentor of the former leader of al Qa'eda in Iraq, Abu Musab al Zarqawi, who was killed in an air strike north-east of Baghdad in 2006.
The Salafist rallies are separate from the wave of anti-government protests calling for democratic reforms over the past three months. The group has also called for the release of Mohammad Shalabi, better known as Abu Sayyaf, who is in prison after being convicted on terrorism charges following riots in the southern city of Maan in 2002.
More than 2,000 demonstrators protested across Jordan yesterday to demand a greater political freedoms. About 1,000 protested outside Amman's municipal building after Friday prayers.
"The reform steps taken by the government are very slow if non-existent. We are still pressing with our demands to see reforms," said Jamil Abu Baker, a Muslim Brotherhood spokesman. "We do not think the government is qualified. We think the way it is cracking down on corruption is a farce."
The government has appointed a national dialogue committee on reforms to draft new laws pertaining to elections and political parties.
"We will present them to the government by the end of this month," said Musa Barhouma, a member of the committee.
But Muath Khawaldeh, 27, a youth leader, said protests would go on until the protesters' demands were met.
"Jordanians are fed up from the dishonest pledges regarding reforms," he said.
* With reporting from Agence France-Presse and Associated Press