Jordan on Wednesday was hit by more protests and strikes while rioting broke in southern cities and a police station was attacked, security officials said, as anger mounted against a whopping rise in fuel prices.
The sudden price hike, followed by an 11 percent increase in public transport fares, drew sharp condemnation from the opposition Islamists, who warned of civil disobedience in the run-up to January's general elections they are boycotting.
Angry protesters blocked a main road in downtown Amman as police warned they would use force if necessary to open the road.
The Islamists said they plan to demonstrate later Wednesday near the Interior Ministry, on Gamal Abdel Nasser Circle, where 24 people were arrested on Tuesday night after more than 2,000 people demonstrated there.
Unrest broke out in southern cities, according to a security official.
“Violent rioting took place today in Karak, Tafileh and Maan. Some rioters attacked a police station in Theiban, while others blocked a main desert road,” he told AFP, adding that anti-riot forces broke up the protests.
Officials said around half the country's 120,000 public school teachers went on strike Wednesday after a call by their union, affecting at least 2,000 schools countrywide.
“The strike will continue until the government goes back on its unjust and irresponsible decision that seeks to make Jordanians poorer,” the teachers' union said in a statement.
Lawyers stopped working in Amman and other trade unions said they are considering similar strike action, while youth groups and some political parties staged demonstrations in the capital and other centers.
The violence erupted on Tuesday night after news spread of the price increases, under which the cost of household gas will rise 53 percent and petrol around 12 percent.
The police department said that 14 people were wounded, 10 of them policemen, when angry protesters attacked a police station late Tuesday in the northern city of Irbid and government buildings in Salt, west of Amman.
Police used tear gas and water cannons to break up a protest outside the house of Prime Minister Abdullah Nsur in Salt, his hometown, as well as in other parts in Jordan, it said.
The US embassy warned Americans in Jordan to avoid areas where demonstrations are being held, while saying it was “carefully monitoring the security situation in Amman and throughout the country.”
Protesters have demanded the resignation of the 35-day-old government of Nsur, who told state television on Tuesday that the hike was to help reduce a massive government deficit of 3.5 billion dinars (around $5 billion) this year.
As “compensation,” the government has said it will pay 420 dinar a year ($592) to families who earn less than 10,000 dinar ($14,000) a year.
“This decision was a severe blow to the election. It has politically weakened the regime and not just the government,” Zaki Bani Rsheid, deputy leader of Muslim Brotherhood, told AFP.
“The polls, which were already facing a crisis, are in serious danger now. We are studying plans to escalate and respond to this move by the government,” he said, warning that demonstrations could turn into “civil disobedience.”
The Islamists, the main opposition movement, have said they will boycott the election in January 23, in protest at constituency boundaries that they say are unfair, and at the failure to move towards a constitutional monarchy with an elected prime minister, rather than one named by the king.
“I think the hike in prices will heavily overshadow the elections, if they are held on time. Last second surprises are expected,” political analyst Oraib Rintawi, who runs the Al-Quds Centre for Political Studies, told AFP.
“What is the point of holding elections if the government is not listening to people's demands and not feeling their needs?