Thousands of protesters made unprecedented calls on Friday for Jordan’s King Abdullah II to go, as police blocked them from heading to the royal palace to vent their anger over fuel-price increases.
“Freedom, freedom, down with Abdullah,” chanted crowds, estimated at about 10,000 people, including Islamists, leftists and youth activists.
Publicly insulting the king or calling for his overthrow is punishable by imprisonment in Jordan, so the demonstrators’ slogans were a major departure for a kingdom that had previously been spared protests on the scale of other countries swept up in the Arab Spring.
“The people want the fall of the regime,” the protesters shouted angrily outside the Husseini Mosque in the heart of the capital, Amman, using the rallying call of the uprisings that swept aside veteran rulers in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen last year.
Organizers said more than 25,000 people took part in the demonstration. Police put the number at 3,000.
In the face of the scale of the protests, the king canceled a visit to London he was due to make next week, the British foreign ministry said.
US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton telephoned the king to voice Washington’s strong support, the royal palace said.
“Clinton praised the king’s road map for political reform as well as government economic reform efforts. She also stressed the importance of Jordanian-US partnership,” a palace statement said.
Police had prevented the demonstrators from heading to the palace, which lies about 8km from the Husseini Mosque.
Protesters held up banners saying: “Playing with prices means playing with fire,” “This is a real revolt against corruption” and “No reform without political and economic change. Long live the revolt of Jordanians.”
The deputy head of the main opposition Muslim Brotherhood, Zaki Bani Rsheid, said: “The numbers calling for the fall of the regime are growing because of wrong polices that reject people’s demands. This cannot and should not be ignored. The regime must reform before it is too late.”
The protesters had said they planned to hold another demonstration at 7pm near the interior ministry, but only about 100 showed up.
About 2,000 anti-riot policemen sealed off the area, as about 200 loyalists of the monarchy clashed with the small knot of anti-government protesters, forcing them to flee.
Demonstrations were also held just outside Amman in the Baqaa Palestinian refugee camp and in the cities of Tafileh, Karak and Maan, south of the capital, and Irbid and Jerash to its north.
The wave of protests erupted on Tuesday in response to the announcement of a 53 percent increase in the price of household gas and a 12 percent rise in the price of gasoline.