AMMAN, Jordan (AP) — Hundreds of Jordanians poured into the streets of several cities for a second day Wednesday, burning tires and pelting riot police with stones to protest a government decision to lift fuel subsidies and raise prices, police said.
Jordan, a key U.S. ally, has so far weathered nearly two years of Arab unrest that has seen longtime rulers toppled in Egypt, Libya, Yemen and Tunisia. The kingdom has seen nearly two years of street protests calling for political reforms, but they have largely been peaceful and rarely targeted King Abdullah II himself.
Tensions rose late Tuesday after the government announced it was raising prices for cooking and heating gas by 54 percent to reduce a massive budget deficit and secure a $2 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund.
In a rare show of criticism aimed at Jordan's King Abdullah II, protesters on Tuesday chanted against him and unsuccessfully tried to take down his portrait from a billboard a protests broke out in 13 cities shortly after Prime Minister Abdullah Ensour revealed the decision Tuesday night on state TV. Public criticism of the king, who has the final say in all civic matters, is punishable by a three-year prison term.
Protesters also demanded the prime minister's resignation as the price of a gas cylinder jumped from 6.50 Jordanian dinars ($9.18) to 10 dinars ($14.12).
Two police officials said protesters also burned tires to block main roads and pelted riot police with stones in at least nine cities across Jordan on Wednesday. The worst violence was in Naour, a city near Amman, where 500 angry youths torched a car and threw rocks at police and passers-by, the two officials said, insisting on anonymity because they are not allowed to make press statements.
No injuries were immediately reported in Wednesday's demonstrations.
The capital, Amman, was largely calm, although the Muslim Brotherhood, Jordan's largest opposition group, called for a massive rally late Wednesday joining Arab nationalists, Marxist and Communist groups, youth movements and professionals. It said the protest would be held in a main Amman city square, housing the interior ministry and other vital government offices and Western hotels.
The site hosted Jordan's largest protest of 2,000 activists late Tuesday. But police were seen sealing it off Wednesday, apparently to be able to control the traffic and the protesters.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Embassy issued a warden message, advising Americans in Jordan to be vigilant, exercise caution and avoid potential flashpoint areas.
The Western-oriented king has been fighting to fend 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 the border.
So far, Abdullah has largely maintained control, partly by relinquishing some of his powers to parliament and amending the country's 60-year-old constitution. His Western-trained security forces have been able to keep protests from getting out of hand. And most in the opposition remain loyal to the king, pressing for reforms but not his removal.
The stakes are high: Abdullah is a close friend of the United States and has been at the forefront in its global war on terrorism, including in Afghanistan. Jordan serves as a buffer zone to Saudi Arabia, another Sunni Muslim country, and to Israel, a friend under a peace treaty signed in 1994. The kingdom hosts the largest Palestinian population outside the West Bank.
The Jordanian teacher's union, meanwhile, called on members to strike, although it only affected public schools and it was unclear how many teachers stayed home.
Fahd Abol-Haj, who owns a dry cleaning laundry in the eastern city of Russeifeh, said his 8-year-old son went to school but found no teachers.
"So, he returned home," Abol-Haj said.