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Jordan: 1 gunman killed in police station attacks

Wednesday - 11/14/2012, 6:32pm  ET

Jordanian policemen prepare to disperse protesters blocking a main road during a demonstration against a rise in fuel prices in downtown Amman, Jordan, Wednesday, Nov. 14, 2012. Hundreds of Jordanians chanted slogans against the king and threw stones at riot police as they protested in several cities for a second day Wednesday amid rising anger over fuel price hikes. (AP Photo/Raad Adayleh)

JAMAL HALABY
Associated Press

AMMAN, Jordan (AP) -- Gunmen attacked two police stations in Jordan Wednesday as demonstrators threw rocks and denounced their king over price hikes in a rare spike of violence.

One attacker was killed in the assaults, the first fatality in demonstrations in the kingdom this year. Thirteen police officers were among 17 seriously wounded in the attack in Jordan's north, police said. A police corporal was critically wounded in the second.

Two days of angry protests have threatened to plunge the U.S.-allied kingdom into a wave of unrest.

So far, King Abdullah II has steered his nation clear of the Arab Spring that has swept across the region, toppling the rulers of Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen along the way. But Jordan's massive budget deficit and other economic woes could increasingly push the population into the opposition camp.

The motive of the bloody attack on the police station in the town of Wasatiyeh, on the western edge of the city of Irbid near the Syrian border, was not immediately clear, and authorities were investigating, a police official said on condition of anonymity because he was not allowed to make press statements.

A Wasatiyeh resident identified the dead gunman as Qais Omari, 22, an activist with Jordanian youth movements taking part in the protests. The resident insisted on anonymity for fear of police retribution.

Gunmen staged another armed attack on a police station in the capital, Amman. The police official said gunmen sprayed the building from a moving car in Shafa Badran district, critically wounding a police corporal who was shot in the eye. He said the vehicle sped off as the attackers fired automatic weapons at cars in the street.

Tensions rose late Tuesday after the government raised prices for cooking and heating gas by 54 percent to rein in a bulging budget deficit and secure a $2 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund. Minutes after state television announced the hike, several thousand Jordanians poured into the streets across the country, pelting police with stones, torching government offices and private cars and chanting slogans against the king.

"I like the king, but so what?" asked 29-yead-old civil servant Daoud Shorfat, one of some 300 protesters in central Amman on Wednesday who police dispersed with tear gas and water cannons. "He can't feel our pain. ... He is watching the government raising the prices, while the people are barely able to feed their hungry children."

Violent demonstrations broke out across the rest of the country Wednesday as well, hitting all 12 of Jordan's governorates, police said. Protesters burned tires to block traffic, torched police and private cars and at least 20 government offices, including court buildings. Police said at least 120 people were arrested nationwide.

In the northwestern city of Salt, tens of protesters unsuccessfully tried storm the residence of the Jordanian prime minister, while in the southern city of Maan, demonstrators fired in the air to force riot police out of town, wounding one officer, police said in a statement.

Some 2,000 protesters in the city of Karak shouted "Down, down with you, Abdullah," and "Get out and leave us alone" as they marched through the town, shattering shop windows, eyewitnesses and police said.

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.

The leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, Jordan's most powerful opposition group, called the protests "a wakeup call to the king to avoid a replica of the violence in Egypt and Tunisia."

"The street is seething with anger and an explosion is coming," the Brotherhood's Zaki Bani Irsheid said. "We want to create a Jordanian Spring with a local flavor -- meaning reforms in the system while keeping our protests peaceful."

The riots are reminiscent of those in 1988 and 1996 over similar hikes on the price of bread and other food commodities under Abdullah's late father, King Hussein. Hussein was forced to introduce swift reforms that ushered in Jordan's first parliamentary elections in 22 years, an end to martial law and the renewal of a multiparty system that had been banned for decades.

Jordanian political commentator Osama al-Sharif said the new wave of protests pose a "serious challenge, probably the most crucial since he (Abdullah) became king" in 1999.

The 50-year-old king has been fighting off a host of domestic challenges, including a Muslim Brotherhood boycott of parliamentary elections, increasing opposition from his traditional Bedouin allies and an inability to keep the Syrian civil war from spilling over his border.

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