By Joel Greenberg
Friday, February 18, 2011; 3:41 PM
JERUSALEM - Clashes erupted Friday in the Jordanian capital, Amman, when about 300 protesters calling for political reforms were set upon by government supporters armed with metal rods and sticks as police stood by, participants said. At least eight people were reportedly injured.
It was the first time protesters have been attacked during demonstrations in Amman for political and economic change, which have been held for the past several Fridays.
"We were not calling for the downfall of the regime but for an elected government, democratic laws, opening the corruption files and against the peace agreement with Israel," said Muwafak Mahadeen, a newspaper columnist and activist who was at the protest outside the Al-Husseini mosque in downtown Amman.
"About 150 people, who looked just like the thugs at Tahrir Square, attacked demonstrators with metal rods, sticks, plastic pipes and stones, and the police did not intervene," Mahadeen said in a telephone interview. "That number of people could only have been mobilized by the security forces."
The government supporters had trailed the protesters, shouting slogans in support of King Abdullah II, and when they attacked, the demonstrators scattered and took shelter in surrounding shops, witnesses said. Mahadeen said that his arm was fractured and that his son, a movie producer, was struck on the head.
Information Minister Taher Adwan said the assault took security forces at the scene by surprise.
"The government condemns this incident. The protest was peaceful, and what the assailants did is a violation of civil liberties," he said in a statement. Adwan added that the government would conduct an investigation to discover the identity of the assailants and that it "re-affirmed its commitment to undertake political reforms, particularly of the laws governing civil liberties."
Under pressure from the street protests, Abdullah this month replaced the prime minister, ordered speedy reforms and met with the largest opposition group, the Muslim Brotherhood, in an effort to broaden political dialogue.
Greenberg is a special correspondent.