Middle East unrest: Clashes erupt at Jordan protest

Supporters of the opposition parties carry a giant national flag during Amman protests, 18/02 Activists were attacked with sticks and stones, witnesses say

Protesters have clashed with government supporters in Jordan, where crowds had gathered to demand political reform.

Eyewitnesses said a small group of government supporters attacked the protesters with sticks and stones in central Amman.

The police moved in to separate the two groups, but activists say eight protesters were hurt in the scuffles.

Protests in Jordan, much smaller-scale than in other parts of the Middle East, have been going on for seven weeks.

The BBC's Dale Gavlak in Amman says it is the seventh Friday in a row that crowds have gathered after Friday prayers to urge economic and political reforms.

The demonstrators comprised mostly young people who were joined by trade unionists and others demanding to be able to elect their prime minister and cabinet officials, and urging economic reforms to help the poor.

Eyewitnesses said about 2,000 protesters turned out, though other reports said the number was about 300.

Economic grievances

Our correspondent says demonstrators took to the streets after prayers at the Husseini Mosque, and chanted: "It's not about bread, but dignity. We prefer death to humiliation."

A group of government supporters rallied behind them shouting: "With our blood and soul we sacrifice our lives to Abu Hussein [King Abdullah]."

The two groups were pressed against each other in a narrow street, and eyewitnesses say a small group of men attacked the activists with sticks and stones before the police restored order.

"A quarrel broke out between pro-government rally and another demonstration staged in the same location," police spokesman Mohamed Khatib told AFP news agency.

One protester, Muhannad Sahafiin, said he would continue to protest until change happens.

"We have to keep the pressure on this government. We are in the streets and we'll stay in the streets until we see all these demands working on the ground," he said.

Opposition groups in Jordan object to economic reforms introduced by Prime Minister Samir Rifai after he took office in November 2009.

The changes led to cuts in subsidies for basic commodities.

Jordan has a population of about six million. The official unemployment rate is 14%, though other estimates put it much higher, especially among the young.

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