Street clashes erupt as Jordan’s King Abdullah visits town

June 13, 2011

Street clashes erupted and bottles and stones were reportedly thrown at King Abdullah II’s motorcade in a southern town in Jordan on Monday, highlighting festering discontent in the kingdom a day after the monarch made a key concession to protesters demanding democratic change.

There were conflicting reports about events in Tafila, 114 miles south of Amman, the capital, where witnesses said violence broke out when pro-reform activists were denied access to a meeting with the king, who pledged funding for local development projects.

Abdullah, a key U.S. ally, has come under pressure in recent months from protesters demanding curbs on his sweeping powers, though they have not called for a regime change.

News agency reports cited an unnamed Jordanian security official as saying that Abdullah’s motorcade in Tafila was attacked in two locations by groups of young men, who hurled stones and empty bottles, but that no one was hurt.

A Jordanian government spokesman said the reports were “totally baseless.” The spokesman, Taher Adwan, said that groups of young people pressed forward to greet the king and that when police “pushed them away, there was a lot of shoving,” according to the Associated Press. A palace official who was with the king called the incident “a gesture of welcome, not an attack.”

But subsequent reports from Tafila, published on Jordanian news Web sites that are not under direct government control, said scuffles with riot police set off broader stone-throwing clashes in the town, injuring more than two dozen people.

The Ammon News site cited witness reports that residents attacked the local government building, smashed windows, set trees on fire and damaged several vehicles and shops. Another news site, Kul al-Urdun, said that five police vehicles were torched and that about 30 police officers were hurt in the confrontations.

According to the reports, the violence erupted after local activists complained that they were barred from meeting the king and presenting demands for reforms and measures to fight official corruption. The activists published a statement condemning the security forces for barring their participation and pledging to carry on with their anti-corruption campaign. A series of recent demonstrations in Tafila have called for the dismissal of the government and steps to combat corruption.

On Sunday, Abdullah addressed demands for reform in a nationally televised speech, the first such address since pro-democracy demonstrations inspired by the Arab Spring began in Jordan six months ago. He acceded to a key demand by promising that future governments would be based on the parliamentary majority, not appointed by the king. He did not set a timetable for the change.

A national dialogue committee, set up in response to the protests, has been working on proposed changes to Jordan’s election law, which opposition groups say favors government supporters and tribal loyalists of the monarchy. Abdullah said he hoped the new law would lead “to a parliament that represents all Jordanians.”

But the king advocated managed change, cautioning against “recourse to the street.”

He promised swift steps toward reform through dialogue but warned against “the deterioration of political and media discourse” in a way that could “inflame hatred.” He also urged Jordanians to “distinguish between required democratic changes and the dangers of chaos and sedition.”

Protests in Jordan have resumed after a lull of several weeks. Islamist opposition leaders have said they are disappointed with the limited scope of proposed reforms and the slow pace of change.

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