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Jordan hit by 2nd day of violent street protests

Police in Amman, Jordan, dispersed protesters on Wednesday. There were protests around the country.

Raad Adayleh/Associated Press

Police in Amman, Jordan, dispersed protesters on Wednesday. There were protests around the country.

AMMAN, Jordan — Jordanians hurled stones at riot police and chanted unprecedented slogans against the monarchy for a second day Wednesday as growing anger over price increases threatened to plunge the US-allied kingdom into a wave of unrest.

So far, King Abdullah II has steered his nation clear of the Arab Spring 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’s camp.

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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 secure a $2 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund. Minutes after state television announced the increase, 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.

‘‘I like the king, but so what?’’ asked civil servant Daoud Shorfat, 29, one of some 300 protesters in central Amman on Wednesday who police dispersed with tear gas and water cannons. ‘‘He can’t feel our pain. . . . He is watching the government raising the prices, while the people are barely able to feed their hungry children.’’

Violent demonstrations broke out across the rest of the country Wednesday as well, hitting all 12 of Jordan’s governorates, police said. Police said at least 120 people were arrested nationwide.

In the city of Salt, protesters unsuccessfully tried to storm the residence of the Jordanian prime minister, while in the city of Maan, demonstrators fired in the air to force riot police out of town, wounding one officer, police said.

Some 2,000 protesters in the city of Karak shouted ‘‘Down, down with you, Abullah,’’ and ‘‘Get out and leave us alone’’ as they marched through the town,eyewitnesses and police said.

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Jordan has been hit by frequent, but small, antigovernment protests over the past 23 months, but these demonstrations have shifted the focus from the government squarely to the king.

The leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, Jordan’s most powerful opposition group, called the protests ‘‘a wake-up call to the king to avoid a replica of the violence in Egypt and Tunisia.’’

‘‘The street is seething with anger and an explosion is coming,’’ Zaki Bani Irsheid said. ‘‘We want to create a Jordanian Spring with a local flavor — meaning reforms in the system while keeping our protests peaceful.’’

The Brotherhood, which has spearheaded the protest movement in the past, has harnessed anger over the price increases to form a loose — and temporary — alliance with Arab nationalists and Marxist and communist groups. The umbrella recently has expanded to include the militant Salafis and the largely secular protest movement, known as Hirak and composed primarily of young people.

The riots are reminiscent of those in 1988 and 1996 over similar increases on the price of bread and other food commodities under Abdullah’s late father, King Hussein. At the time, Hussein was forced to introduce swift changes that ushered in Jordan’s first parliamentary elections after a 22-year gap, an end to martial law, and the renewal of a multiparty system that had been banned for decades.

Jordanian political commentator Osama al-Sharif said the new wave of protests pose a ‘‘serious challenge, probably the most crucial since [Abdullah] became king’’ in 1999.

The 50-year-old king has been fighting to fend 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 the border.

So far, Abdullah has largely maintained control, partly by relinquishing some of his powers to Parliament and amending the country’s 60-year-old constitution. His Western-trained security forces have been able to keep protests from getting out of hand. And most in the opposition remains loyal to the king, pressing for changes but not his removal.

The country’s economic woes have added to the crush of challenges, and they show no sign of easing.

Jordan’s budget deficit is expected to reach a year-end record of $3 billion, while foreign debt is expected to jump 27 percent to $27 billion this year as the country grapples with rising poverty, unemployment, and inflation.

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