A protest turned violent in the Jordanian capital on Friday as government supporters clashed with demonstrators calling for political change, injuring several, witnesses said.
Antigovernment protests, though rare for Jordan, have become routine on Fridays in the weeks since popular uprisings swept over Tunisia, Egypt and other parts of the region, but this was the first time that one ended in confrontation.
Jordanians expressed surprise over the turn of events, saying that this Friday’s antigovernment gathering was actually smaller than previous ones, with only a few hundred participants, as opposed to earlier demonstrations that had attracted several thousand.
The protest started out peacefully outside the King Hussein mosque in downtown Amman, according to participants, with the demonstrators calling for an end to corruption and constitutional monarchy and for the lowering of prices.
“Then,” recounted Firas Mahadin, 30, a movie director who took part in the protest, “more than a hundred young thugs surrounded us from in front and behind and started attacking us.”
Mr. Mahadin was speaking by telephone from the hospital, where he had gone with a suspected concussion after being hit on the head with a metal club, he said. He said that the attackers were shouting slogans in favor of King Abdullah II and against Al Jazeera, the Arab satellite station that has been accused by parts of the Middle East establishment of fomenting the recent upheavals and unrest.
Mr. Mahadin and others described the pro-government supporters as young men in civilian clothing armed with metal bars and wooden clubs.
Witnesses said that the police at the scene did not intervene.
A police spokesman, Mohamed Khatib, described the clashes as the result of a “quarrel” that broke out “between a pro-government rally and another demonstration staged in the same location,” Agence France-Presse reported.
Most of the rallies for change have been led by the Islamic Action Front, the political arm of the Muslim Brotherhood, joined by leftist groups, students and trade unions.
Another antigovernment protester, Sufian al-Tell, an engineer and a member of the Jordan National Party, said that the Muslim Brotherhood did not participate in this Friday’s demonstration.
During previous Friday protests, Mr. Tell said, there were fewer police officers and the atmosphere was relaxed, with the police offering protesters juice and water. This Friday there was a stronger police presence, he said, “and although we asked for help, they walked away.”
The demonstrations in Jordan have represented the first serious challenge to the decade-old rule of King Abdullah II, a critical American ally in the region. The king enjoys absolute powers, and appoints the prime minister and the cabinet. But he is contending with the country’s worst economic crisis in years.
King Abdullah has already taken some measures to try to calm the atmosphere. Responding to the protesters’ demands, he dismissed the prime minister, Samir Rifai, on Feb. 1 and replaced him with Marouf al-Bakhit, a former general who has served before in the post and is widely viewed as clean of corruption. The royal palace said in a statement that Mr. Bakhit was asked to take “practical, swift and tangible steps” toward comprehensive political change.
A week later, several dozen Jordanian tribesmen, historically core loyalists to the monarchy, issued a rare statement calling for urgent and far-reaching political reform and an end to corruption. They said that without a more open and responsive political system, the country was headed down the path taken by Tunisia and Egypt. The statement, signed by 36 members of tribes, mostly Bedouins, was published on Jordan’s most popular news Web site.
Despite the growing undercurrent of unease, there was little sign before Friday’s clashes that things could turn violent. Opposition forces had said that they would keep up their symbolic protests but that they did not intend to escalate the situation.
Few consider either the monarchy or the country at imminent risk of serious turmoil, not least because the population is divided between groups with differing grievances and interests. Jordan is a country of six million, more than half of them Palestinian, and 40 percent members of tribes, also known as East Bankers.