Protesters demanding reforms clashed with government supporters in the center of Jordan's capital on Friday, pelting each other stones until security forces charged in and beat protesters, as unrest intensified in this key U.S. ally.
The clashes, in which 120 were injured, were the most violent in more than two months of protests inspired by the popular uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt. One man reported to have been killed while protesting was later identified as a government supporter who died of a heart attack.
Protests in Jordan have generally been smaller than those in other Arab nations — and in another difference have not sought the ouster of the country's leader, King Abdullah II. But the young Jordanians organizing the demonstrations said this week they are intensifying their campaign, demanding the removal of the prime minister, creation of a more reformist government, the dissolving of what is seen as a docile parliament and the dismantling of the largely feared intelligence department.
Hundreds of anti-government activists — many of whom coordinated through Facebook — vowed to camp out in a central Amman square in front of the Interior Ministry until their demands are met. Their numbers swelled to more than 1,500 during the day to include members of the Islamic Action Front, Jordan's largest opposition party, and their leftist allies.
In the afternoon, several hundred government supporters attacked the protesters, sparking stone-throwing clashes until about 400 riot police stormed the square. The pro-government crowd appeared to disperse as the security forces waded in, hitting protesters with clubs and firing water cannons. At least a dozen protesters were dragged into a nearby government building.
One person died. The opposition Islamic Action Front said he was a protester and that he was beaten to death by police. Later, however, a spokesman for the anti-government protest movement, Ziad al-Khawaldeh, said the man who died was not among the protesters.
Police chief Lt. Gen. Hussein Majali said the man was a government supporter who died of a heart attack while running for cover when clashes broke out. He identified him as 55-year-old Khairi Jamil Saad. Other government officials, including the foreign minister, also said he was on the pro-government side and died of a heart attack.
Majali said 120 people were hurt, including 52 policemen. Eight people were detained for questioning.
Prime Minister Marouf al-Bakhit accused the Islamic Action Front and the umbrella group it is part of, the Muslim Brotherhood, of inciting the violence.
The Muslim Brotherhood rejected the accusation. "The protesters were peaceful and didn't attack anyone," said Jamil Abu-Bakr. "The prime minister is running away from his responsibility."
Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh said police had surrounded the protesters to protect them but were then caught in the middle when counter-demonstrators attacked the crowd.
Hospital officials said more than 100 people were admitted with serious to minor injuries to the head and the body. The officials insisted on anonymity, fearing government reprisal. An Associated Press reporter saw three police officers, their faces covered with blood, being taken away in ambulances.
One of the wounded, Mohammed Maaytah, 26, said he passed out after suffering an eye injury from a hurled stone.
"As I tried to get up from the ground, five policemen attacked me with batons and kept beating me until I passed out again," he said. "The police were supposed to protect us, but they attacked us."
Noor Smadi, 23, said she was also beaten by police until "I fainted."
"Our Cabinet is a bunch of criminals," she said. "They had policemen beat us savagely, although we insisted that our protest was peaceful."
A similar clash broke out in the same square late Thursday, injuring 35 people.
Elsewhere, 3,000 pro-king loyalists took to the streets of the capital in two separate protests, waving portraits of the monarch and chanting "our lives and souls we sacrifice for you, King Abdullah."
Around 7,000 people reiterated pledges of loyalty to the king in demonstrations in the Red Sea port of Aqaba and the Jordan Valley, bordering Israel and the West Bank, the Petra state news agency said.
About 400 members of Islamic Action Front and their leftist allies also staged another demonstration outside Amman's Kalouti mosque, near the Israeli Embassy. They demanded an end to Jordan's 1994 peace treaty with Israel.
In the western city of Salt, some 300 Salafis — an ultraconservative Islamic sect banned in Jordan — protested in the city, demanding convicted al-Qaida prisoners be released from Jordanian jails.
Meanwhile, Petra said 15 leftists and independents quit a national dialogue committee with the government on reforms to protest police using force against the protesters. The 53-member committee was formed earlier this month to draft laws that would give wider public freedoms.
Associated Press writer Dale Gavlak contributed to this report.
(This version CORRECTS name, age and circumstances of man's death with updated information from officials.)