AMMAN, Jordan (AP) — Jordan's Islamist-led opposition looked to harness growing popular anger with the government, vowing Thursday to keep up a wave of demonstrations this week that have rattled the U.S.-allied kingdom.
The protests, which erupted Tuesday across Jordan after the government raised the price of fuel and gas prices, are the largest and most sustained to hit the country since the start of the Arab Spring nearly two years ago. Gunmen, taking advantage of street chaos caused by the protests, attacked fire on two police stations late Wednesday, officials said. One of the assailants was killed and 17 people were wounded, including 13 police officers.
While there were no protests Thursday, which was a national holiday to observe the Islamic New Year, the leader of the fundamentalist Muslim Brotherhood movement spearheading the opposition to the price hikes — and the ruling system in general — said demonstrations "will continue until the government's decision is revoked."
"While we understand the reasons behind the price hike, we insist it's a temporary, but not a fundamental solution," said Jamil Abu-Bakr. The alternative, he said, is a crackdown on corruption and a stronger parliament to monitor the government's activities. He said a demonstration is scheduled for Friday in Amman.
The opposition, which also includes Arab nationalist, communists and the largely secular Hirak movement of mostly young Jordanians, has seized on popular anger over the government's decision Tuesday to raise prices for cooking and heating gas by 54 percent in a bid to woo more of the population into its camp.
The government has defended the price hikes, saying they are necessary to reduce a massive budget deficit, part of Jordan's efforts to secure a badly needed $2 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund to shore up the kingdom's shaky finances.
Jordan has been hit by frequent, but small, anti-government protests over the past 23 months, but these demonstrations have shifted the focus from the government squarely to the king. So far, Abdullah has largely maintained control, partly by relinquishing some of his powers to parliament and amending several laws guaranteeing wider public freedoms.
But his opponents say the reforms are insufficient, and the violent protests Tuesday and Wednesday indicated many in Jordan are growing frustrated with the government's inability to address a host of trouble, including unemployment, rising poverty and inflation.
The government was in contact Thursday with the Brotherhood and other activists to "bring the situation under control because instability in Jordan is in nobody's interest," an official said on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to brief the media.
But the Brotherhood's political wing said in a statement that three party leaders, including secretary general Hamza Mansour, met with and Jordan's deputy prime minister late Wednesday to discuss the price hikes, but that "no agreement was reached on calming the anger in the street."
Jordanian government officials have accused the Brotherhood of inciting the unrest to score political points ahead of parliamentary elections in January. The fundamentalist group is boycotting the polls over disagreement with the government on an election law that it says favors pro-king loyalists.
On Thursday, youth activists expressed concern with the violent turn the protest had taken, and called for a return to non-violent demonstrations.
Waseem Haddad, a 23-year-old member of the youth Hirak movement, said the street violence "is damaging our peaceful campaign in the past 23 months for real reforms, greater public liberties, justice and equality and better opportunities for the youth."