Dozens of people have been injured in a major clash between hard-line Islamic protesters and government supporters in the town of Zarqa in Jordan on Friday.
The protesters -- radical Salafi Muslims, a fundamentalist sect some have likened to Al-Qaeda – converged in town against a smaller group of people loyal to the Jordanian king and beat them with clubs, fists and stones.
[The police] had to fire tear gas after a group of Islamist Salafists attacked some citizens following their demonstration in Zarqa, accusing them of being atheists, a witness told Agence France Presse.
Outside the town's Omar ibn Khattab Mosque, Salafi leaders delivered speeches condemning Jordan’s ties to the U.S. and called for the imposition of Islamic Sharia law in the country. Salafis are also demanding the release of comrades who are in prison allegedly for plotting terrorist attacks in Jordan.
Salafi leader Abed Shihadeh al-Tahawi told the crowd: The Jordanian government has been chasing us everywhere for Americans' sake. We're not going anywhere. One day all the Arab world will be ours. We will have Shania law rule in Jordan. It's only a matter of time, and all America and Israel's efforts will go away.
Zarqa, an industrial city north of Amman, is where the Iraqi Al-Qaeda chief Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was born.
Salafis are officially banned in Jordan, but it has somehow been able to thrive.
Although they are opposed to the king and the government, the Salafis have a drastically different outlook from the mainstream protesters who comprise primarily leftists, trade unionists, students, secularists and moderate Islamic groups.
Across the country, thousands of other Jordanians demonstrated to demand democratic reforms.
At least 1000 rallied outside the municipal building in the capital Amman. They held a large Jordanian flag and shouted: We sacrifice our blood and soul for Jordan. Reform the system now.
They were kept apart by police from a pro-government assemblage who chanted:Those who fight us, beware! Our rocks will smash your heads.
However, protesters in Jordan seem to be making a strong distinction between the king, Abdullah II, and the government. They are seeking the overthrow of their ruling monarch – rather they want some of his authority reduced., for example, his right to appoint the prime minister.
Demonstrators have also asked for new laws on elections and political parties.
The road to reform is long, said Muath Khawaldeh, spokesman for the protesters said, according to media reports.
So far we have not seen serious steps taken by government. But this won't stop us protesting until our demands are met, he said.