Police officer killed during protests in Jordan over high fuel prices

AMMAN, Dec 16 (Reuters) - One senior police officer was killed on Thursday in clashes with demonstrators in the southern Jordanian city of Maan during protests over high fuel prices that spread to several cities across the kingdom, police and witnesses said.

In a statement, police said the officer was shot in the head while dealing with "rioting" by a group of outlaws in the impoverished city that has in the past seen bouts of civil unrest over fuel hikes and cuts to subsidies.

"We will strike with an iron fist anyone who tries to attack lives and property," the police statement added.

A police source had earlier said the officer was shot by unknown assailants during clashes in the Husseiniya area of Maan. Four other policemen were injured, the source said.

Witnesses said a long convoy of armoured vehicles was seen entering Maan as reinforcements were sent to the neighbourhood where the police officer was killed.

Youths had clashed with police in several impoverished neighbourhoods of the city and in the heavily populated industrial city of Zarqa, north east of the capital Amman, witnesses said.

Anti-riot police fired tear gas in the Jabal al Abyad neighbourhood of the city of Zarqa to break up protests that broke out in Jordan's second most populous city.

Witnesses said dozens of youths also staged a protest in the Tafiyla neighbourhood of the capital, where police chased demonstrators who were chanting anti-government slogans.

Youths burned tyres on a main highway between the capital and the Dead Sea, disrupting traffic, witnesses said.

In the north of the country near the border with Syria, youths clashed with police in several neighbourhoods in Irbid, the country's third-largest city by population.

Sporadic skirmishes spread to other smaller towns in the vicinity where police used tear gas to disperse stone throwing youths.

The U.S. embassy issued a security alert saying U.S. government personnel had been restricted from both personal and official travel to southern Jordan.

Tensions have been mounting in Maan and several cities in southern Jordan after days of sporadic strikes by lorry drivers protesting high fuel prices.

The government has promised to look into the strikers' demands but has said it already has paid over 500 million dinars ($700 million) to cap fuel price hikes this year.

However, officials say they cannot spend more to subsidise prices because of limits in place under an International Monetary Fund (IMF)-backed structural economic reform programme.

Shops in Maan and several other Jordanian provincial cities shut on Wednesday in solidarity with demands the government reduce diesel prices, which truck drivers blame for mounting losses.

Some activist strikers have threatened to stage street protests in provincial cities on Friday. Police tightened security near the seat of government in central Amman, where protesters traditionally gather.

Reporting by Suleiman Al-Khalidi; Editing by Chris Reese, Lincoln Feast and Christian Schmollinger

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