AMMAN – Jordanian authorities moved quickly to stop rioting in the southern city of Maan from spreading to the capital Amman on Tuesday. Residents attacked government buildings and clashed with police to protest the alleged killing of two residents by security forces.
Scores of young men filled the main streets, shooting in the air, chanting anti-government slogans and vowing revenge, eyewitnesses including local Imam (Muslim prayer leader) Abdel Rahman told The Media Line.
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No casualties were reported on either side and the government did not announce any arrests.
"The town is relatively calm, but we hear sporadic gunshots from the center of town, while ambulance sirens are echoing across the city," Abdel Rahman, who refused to give his last name, said.
Although the government announced it had gained control over vital parts of the town, eyewitnesses told The Media Line that the situation remained volatile as armed men continued roaming the streets and shooting in the air.
Videos posted on social networks showed police in civilian clothes stamping on the bodies of two men after allegedly having shot them.
"The town is awash with police while tribal leaders are meeting to assess the situation," Abdel Rahman said.
Tribal leaders last week demanded the government bring to justice those responsible for the killings and threatened a campaign of civil disobedience within a week if their demand was not met.
Police sources said they imposed a curfew on Sunday to gain control of the town and launched a wave of arrests after a police station was torched by protesters, but town residents said they are adamant to see justice done.
"The town is a ticking bomb. People are angry and the government is trying to contain the situation with minimal damage” a police source told The Media Line.
The two men killed belong to influential local tribes in this city 200 miles south of the capital and were wanted for questioning by police, according to government sources.
The provocative video comes against the backdrop of tension that has been simmering for weeks following the killing of four people in King Hussein University in Maan in later April during a brawl between two tribes at a function to celebrate Independence Day. Residents said police did not do enough to apprehend the killers.
In the more recent incident, residents accuse the government of refusing to join them in bringing the policemen to justice. Government officials, however, insist they need time before determining what exactly what happened.
Prime Minister Abdullah Nesour told the parliament on Sunday that the government would not allow rioting in the town and promised to bring the situation under control.
Late on Sunday, city streets were devoid of traffic as shop owners closed down early, part of the “civil disobedience” declared by town tribal leaders.
Prime Minister Nesour said the government sent a strong force of anti-riot police to disperse protesters and to allow traffic to flow normally.
"Protesters are adamant to remain in the streets until their demands are met. They want to bring those who killed our sons to justice. The protesters said they will not return home until those killers are punished," Abdel Kareem, 24, one of the demonstrators told The Media Line.
Kareem said police were using water cannons and tear gas to disperse protesters, most of whom are young people from local tribes.
"The town's main square looks like the aftermath of a battleground," he said, noting that hundreds of policemen in armored vehicles lined the town's main roads.
Town residents said their problem with the authorities run deeper than just the killing of two people. They say they feel betrayed by King Abdullah even though they helped the ruling family establish Jordan. They say many residents in Maan are poor, subsisting mostly on government-subsidized bread
"Unemployment is nearly 30 percent, infrastructure is almost non-existent and young men are increasingly growing frustrated over the lack of jobs," university professor Abdel Satar Hewitat told The Media Line.
The desert town, home to nearly 50,000 people and one of Jordan's most impoverished, is not new to clashes with the authorities.
In 1989 the late King Hussein had to bring in the army to restore order after rioting over the government's plan to increase break prices. In 2002, King Abdullah ordered the police to close down the town in a hunt for extremists believed to belong to hardline Islamist groups opposed to the kingdom's close ties with the West.
Article written by Adam Nicky, courtesy of The Media Line
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