Jordanian king links 2 days of rioting over bread prices to Iraq Bakery customers critical of unrest

August 19, 1996|By KNIGHT-RIDDER NEWS SERVICE

AQABA, Jordan -- While many Jordanians were condemning the riots that rocked this tiny nation for two days, King Hussein yesterday accused "foreign powers" of provoking the violence, and, in a separate interview, he explicitly linked the unrest to Iraq.

In Amman, the king told state-run television that an investigation under way would expose the parties involved in fomenting the unrest touched off after the government's doubling of bread prices last week.

In the interview on Cable News Network, the king said that elements backed and supported by Iraq were responsible, though he did not elaborate.

In this sweltering seaport, customers crowding the city's largest bakery criticized Jordanians who rioted in southern towns around the medieval fortress city of Karak and later in the capital, Amman. But they also sharply denounced the steep rise in bread prices that sparked the unrest.

"I am angry. I don't deny it," declared Amr Fahrhoun, 30, a driver for a local hotel. "But I tell you we cannot go into the street and throw rocks at the police. We shouldn't make any problems."

"The salaries here in Jordan are low, not high," explained the father of two girls as bakers nearby stocked their shelves with tray after tray of fresh, warm pita bread. "This is difficult for someone who has children or a big family. I can live with this alone, but with a family, I can't. It's very difficult for us."

The government boosted the price of bread under pressure from the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. Unofficial sources said the alternative might have been a devaluation of the Jordanian currency.

A tense calm settled over Jordan yesterday after Hussein dispatched troops to troubled areas, imposed an overnight curfew and threatened to "strike with an iron fist" against all lawbreakers and those instigating violence.

On Saturday, mobs took to the streets, clashing with police and burning cars, banks and government buildings in Jordan's worst violence since 1989, when similar riots broke out to protest the government's raising of fuel prices.

The rioting erupted in Karak on Friday and spread to surrounding towns. Riots also broke out in a poor central section of Amman early yesterday, but police arrested more than 100 people and the army clamped a tight lid on the unrest later in the day.

Relations have deteriorated between Jordan and Iraq since the king gave asylum last year to two high-level Iraqi defectors, including a son-in-law of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. The king subsequently called for a change in government in Baghdad.

In an address on state television, King Hussein declared: "I believe there were foreign parties [behind the unrest], and our investigation is going to show all of that."

Official sources indicated privately that those responsible were supporters of a local pro-Iraqi Baath party and another local leftist party with links to a radical Palestinian group based in Damascus, Syria. But many Jordanians brushed aside reports of foreign intervention.

Ever since the king signed Jordan's 1994 peace treaty with Israel, Jordanians' high expectations that the pact would lead to an economic boom have been dashed, and the government's financial belt-tightening was long expected to lead to unrest.

"The peace is almost 2 years old," noted Abdul-Aziz al-Kabariti, a Jordanian business executive who is the prime minister's brother. "The bread problem is the excuse. The economic frustration and the lives of the people have not improved at all because of the peace."

Pub Date: 8/19/96

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