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South Jordan protests erupt into further violence

Violent clashes are taking place in the Jordanian city of Ma'an, after a 22-year-old was shot dead by police
Protests erupted this week between anti-riot police and protesters in the Jordanian city of Ma'an (AFP)

Clashes are ongoing between police and protestors in the southern city of Ma’an in Jordan, according to Jordanian news agencies and local sources.

“Anonymous gunmen fired at the security service headquarters in Ma’an on Thursday and security service officials have acted with restraint in response”, unnamed security sources were quoted as saying in a statement on Ammon, a Jordanian news agency.

But reports from protesters suggest that the violence has intensified. A video posted to YouTube taken by a local resident purportedly shows clashes between protestors and anti-riot police, with the sound of gunshots clearly audible in the background.

According to the Ma’an News Agency, two banks and several government buildings have also been set on fire, allegedly by protestors. 

Protests erupted in Ma’an on Tuesday evening when a 22-year-old man was shot dead outside his house by police at around 6pm, as officers chased armed gunmen who had earlier fired at a police patrol outside the city. Tensions have been high between government forces and conservative elements of the opposition, with sporadic clashes breaking out in recent months. 

City officials have criticised the way security services dealt with the incident.

“Around 6pm is usually a busy time for residents of Ma’an because they run errands and visit each other, and the victim was shot at random because he was standing outside his house” Majed Sharari, mayor of Ma’an, told The Jordan Times, an English daily based in the capital Amman.

“Shooting at people will escalate the situation” he added.

Ma’an has traditionally been a centre of political unrest. These latest clashes have fallen on the anniversary of 1989 protests held against the government for enacting International Monetary Fund (IMF)  reforms that led to significant increases in the price of fuel and food.

The last major protests in Ma’an took place in 2012, when there were nationwide demonstrations against new hikes in the price of basic goods. During those rallies, protesters burnt tyres, blocked streets and threw stones at police, while security services responded by firing tear gas to disperse crowds of people.

Human rights groups have accused Jordanian police of using excessive force against protestors, saying that a rally in Amman this March officers beat and kicked 80 to 100 people attending picketing outside the parliament building.

“Jordan needs to start taking allegations of police violence seriously” Nadim Houry, deputy director of the Middle East and North Africa division at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement.

“How do Jordanian officials expect this kind of police violence to stop unless officials investigate and prosecute those responsible?” he added.

At least eight people have died in clashes between protestors and security services over the past year.