Muhammad Hamed / Reuters
Jordanian gendarmerie police stand guard to separate pro-government supporters from anti-government protesters Tuesday.
Demonstrations and calls for general strikes hit key U.S. ally Jordan after the country’s prime minister added to the country’s economic problems by announcing price hikes for gas and other fuel.
Abdullah Ensour's announcement on state television Tuesday cited a need to offset $5 billion in state losses by increasing fuel costs.
It sparked protests in the capital, Amman, and at least 12 other cities across Jordan.
The protesters, spanning an array of different political groups, also targeted King Abdullah II -- a rare public display against the monarch.
Criticizing the king in public is forbidden in Jordan and is punishable by up to three years in jail.
"Revolution, revolution, it is a popular revolution," chanted about 2,000 in an impromptu demonstration at a main Amman square, housing the Interior Ministry and other vital government departments.
"Freedom is from God, in spite of you, Abdullah," they shouted.
Muhammad Hamed / Reuters
Protesters rally Tuesday following an announcement that Jordan would raise fuel prices.
Tough test for regime
Cars jammed gas stations to stock up on fuel before the price hike takes effect on Wednesday.
The protests looked set to escalate toward the end of the week, setting a tough test for Jordan’s regime, although military suppression tactics - commonly used in Egypt and elsewhere – are highly unusual.
The country has traditionally been one of the most stable in the Middle East, despite its position at the fulcrum of the region’s deepest conflicts in recent years. Its longest border, with Israel, has been peaceful since a 1993 treaty.
Although a relatively wealthy country, Jordan lacks natural resources and has been stretched economically by decades of refugees from neighboring conflicts, who have pushed up demand for real estate and commodities.
Ensour, the prime minister, said a type of fuel used in public transport will rise in price by 14 percent, while kerosene oil used for household heating will go up by 28 percent.
Cooking gas will jump 54 percent, he said. Many low-income Jordanians use the gas for heating.
Pipeline repeatedly blown up
Disruptions in cheap Egyptian gas shipments cost Jordan an extra $7 million a day, the government said, pushing the budget deficit to a record high of nearly $3 billion this year.
The pipeline that carries Egyptian natural gas to Israel and Jordan has been blown up more than a dozen times over the past year by militants in Egypt's Sinai desert, halting shipments. Jordan has switched to the more expensive fuel oil to generate electricity.
In some cities in Jordan's south, inhabited by tribal Bedouins who are traditional supporters of the king, hundreds of protesters took to the streets to chant slogans calling for the ouster of the prime minister, but also criticizing the king.
In Mazar, dozens of protesters burned down the main court building after stealing documents, said Yazan Naanah, a resident who said he saw the arson but did not take part in the protest.
Further south in Maan, a hotbed for Jordanian Muslim militants, 500 protesters blocked the streets, burning tires and throwing stones at riot police, who were firing tear gas, a city official said, insisting on anonymity because he is not allowed to make press statements. He said there were no immediate reports of injuries.
NBC's Ayman Mohyeldin and Reuters contributed to this report.
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