AMMAN, Jordan – Gunmen attacked two police stations in Jordan on Wednesday as demonstrators threw rocks and denounced their king over price hikes in a rare spike of violence.
One attacker was killed in the assaults, the first fatality in demonstrations in the kingdom this year.
Thirteen police officers were among 17 seriously wounded in the attack in Jordan’s north, police said. A police corporal was critically wounded in the second, in the capital of Amman.
Two days of angry protests have threatened to plunge the U.S.-allied kingdom into a wave of unrest.
So far, King Abdullah II has steered his nation clear of the Arab Spring of revolution that has swept across the region, toppling the rulers of Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen along the way. But Jordan’s massive budget deficit and other economic woes could increasingly push the population into the opposition camp.
The motive of the bloody attack on the police station in the town of Wasatiyeh, on the western edge of the city of Irbid near the Syrian border, was not immediately clear, and authorities were investigating, a police official said on condition of anonymity because he was not allowed to make press statements.
In the other attack, in Amman, the police official said gunmen sprayed the police station from a moving car in Shafa Badran district, critically wounding a police corporal. He said the vehicle sped off as the attackers fired automatic weapons at cars in the street.
Tensions rose late Tuesday after the government raised prices for cooking and heating gas by 54 percent to rein in a bulging budget deficit and thereby secure a $2 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund.
Minutes after state television announced the hike, several thousand Jordanians poured into the streets across the country, pelting police with stones, torching government offices and private cars and chanting slogans against the king.
Violent demonstrations broke out across the rest of the country Wednesday as well, hitting all 12 of Jordan’s governorates, police said. Protesters burned tires to block traffic, torched police and private cars and at least 20 government offices, including court buildings. Police said at least 120 people were arrested nationwide.
Jordan has been hit by frequent but small anti-government protests over the past 23 months, but Wednesday’s demonstrations have shifted the focus from the government squarely to the king.
The riots are reminiscent of those in 1988 and 1996 over similar hikes on the price of bread and other food commodities under Abdullah’s late father, King Hussein.
Hussein was forced to introduce swift reforms that ushered in Jordan’s first parliamentary elections in 22 years, an end to martial law and the renewal of a multiparty system that had been banned for decades.
The 50-year-old king has been fighting 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 his border.