Rioting spreads in Jordan

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The Independent Online
Army helicopters dropped tear gas canisters on crowds in Karak yesterday as Jordan's King Hussein visited the southern hill-top city that has been hit by riots over a government decision to double bread prices. Later the riots spread to the capital, Amman. Residents in the Hay al-Tafailah area, on one of Amman's seven hills, fired shots at police who used teargas to disperse them.

Police sirens wailed across Karak, 90km (55 miles) southwest of Amman, as protesters used barrels and rocks to block armoured cars. The army sent tracked armoured personnel carriers to smash through the barricades as King Hussein held talks at police headquarters. In a speech to soldiers in Karak shown on state television late at night, King Hussein said he was "pained and saddened" by the violence but he was determined to crush the protests. Jordan faced a choice of order or anarchy.

Earlier the King suspended the lower house of parliament, saying he would deal with the protesters with "an iron fist". He blamed outside political forces for the disturbances, but local people blamed the jump in the price of bread last week at the insistence of the International Monetary Fund. Bread is the staple food for Jordan's 4.2 million people, who earn between pounds 100 and pounds 200 a month on average.

A retired army officer in Karak was quoted as saying: "There are no political parties or foreign intervention involved. They have nothing to do with the incidents. It is simply that people are hard up and hungry."

Local people said two people had been killed in Karak, though this was denied by the government, which said there were only six injured. Tourists took refuge in the Crusader castle which dominates the town.

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