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Jordanian police step in to stop clashes

Witnesses described a tense atmosphere as at least 500 protesters, calling themselves the March 24 Movement, came close to clashing with some 400 government and monarchy loyalists who were also rallying in the area.

Jordanian policeman pushes away a pro government demonstrator who tried to reach a group of March 24 supporters.
Jordanian policeman pushes away a pro government demonstrator who tried to reach a group of March 24 supporters.

AMMAN // Police prevented street battles between hundreds of opposition activists and government supporters who held rival demonstrations yesterday in Amman's city centre.

Witnesses described a tense atmosphere as at least 500 protesters, calling themselves the March 24 Movement, came close to clashing with some 400 government and monarchy loyalists who were also rallying in the area.

Police with shields stepped in to stop some 100 pro-government demonstrators from storming the March 24 protest site.

"We were able to prevent them from entering the [opposition] crowd," Mohammad Khatib, the police spokesman said.

"We have orders to protect protesters, even if we lose our lives. Police are working in shifts."

The March 24 Movement, which includes Islamists, left-wing opposition groups and students, is calling for the dissolution of parliament, greater political freedom, an end to corruption, and limits to the king's power.

"The most important thing is we do not want to see corrupt people anymore," Khaled Masalha, 26, said.

Mr Khatib said 900 police officers were deployed at the site and were given orders to prevent outbreaks of violence between the opposing groups.

Tensions have been high in Jordan since last Friday when a 55-year-old protester died and another 120 people were injured when security forces used batons and water cannons to break up pro-monarchy demonstrators who attacked opposition protesters with stones.

This week, a government-appointed committee for national dialogue suspended its work after 16 of its members quit over the clashes. King Abdullah II, however, was able to jumpstart talks after meeting with committee members.

Jordanian officials, including parliament, have so far stood firmly against constitutional amendments that curb the powers of King Abdullah II.

"We reject demands that call for limiting the king's constitutional powers," Faisal Fayez, the head of parliament told a youth conference in Jerash on Wednesday. "Our national unity is sacred and should not be tampered with. We are keen to safeguard it; it is our lifeboat."

Muna Maaytah, 42, who came from Kerak to join the pro-monarchy demonstration, criticised the demands of pro-reform demonstrators.

"They want to curb the king's powers and they do not want the police or the Mukhabarat [secret police]," Ms Maaytah said. "This is not reform." Pro-reform leaders have said their demands for political changes have been misinterpreted as a threat to national unity and the monarchy.

"We do not want to die hungry ... we want new elections and an elected prime minister," said a 32-year-old protester. "The talk about the national unity is a lie. The king is good but everybody under him must go."

smaayeh@thenational.ae