By Julie Webb, special for HT
HAVANA TIMES, March 25 — Today I went to Gamal Abdul Nasser Roundabout in Jabal Hussein, Amman, which is outside the Jordanian Interior Ministry, to interview participants in the protest encampment set up there on Thursday, 24 March.
The organizers, a collection of youth groups, called themselves the 24 March movement, and planned to stay in the roundabout until their demands for political reform are met, despite some 60 being injured and several hospitalized on the first day as a result of attacks by pro-government supporters throwing rocks and pieces of concrete.
Undeterred by the previous day’s violence, there were more than four thousand people there today – men, women, children, all peacefully chanting, holding banners and placards, singing, and listening to speeches.
As the afternoon wore on, there were several waves of stone-throwing by pro-government thugs, resulting in numerous injuries and in the protesters having to confine themselves to beneath the overbridge, as thugs were on the bridge throwing missiles down on us. The police did nothing for several hours, but once an ambulance had to be called, they did detain one or two stone-throwers. At various times it was announced that the police had been ordered to arrest those throwing stones, and that the mayor was coming to negotiate – but neither transpired.
Truckloads of pro-government supporters were then permitted by police to drive through the road blocks, and we were soon surrounded by an ugly mob shouting abuse. The police and security personnel still did nothing, but riot police appeared within the grounds of the Interior Ministry. We were being driven further and further inside the underpass by the thugs, who had now taken over a nearby building under construction, and were throwing rocks, pieces of concrete and building materials such as ceramic tiles down on the people trying to take refuge. Despite their cameraman on the roof of the Interior Ministry filming what was going on, and it being in full view of both police and security, and several people in the crowd begging them to intervene, none did anything to detain the offenders or even to attempt to stop them.
Thugs then attacked from the other end and one side, forcing over a thousand protesters, including women and children, into a smaller and smaller space. People were being crushed, falling and being trampled.
Two banquettes with water cannons appeared, and drove up alongside the protesters, who cheered, thinking they had come to their rescue.
Instead they opened fire on the protesters, their first victims being the Red Crescent tent and the doctors, nurses, and injured people inside. This is a clear breach of humanitarian law.
Beside them were the tents sheltering women, babies and small children – these were also blown off the face of the earth by water, showing just how tough these guys are. Everyone was so crushed together, children were screaming and crying, people were unable to move in any direction but where they were blasted by the water cannon, it was impossible to move or breathe, and I feared for my and others lives.
It was a short relief when everyone pushed past me and I could breathe for a moment – until I was blasted by another salvo from the water canon which swept me off my feet, and but for grabbing onto the clothes of others I would have gone down and been trampled.
I could feel that other people had gone down under my feet, and was calling for help for them, but everyone was equally under attack and equally desperately trying to stay upright. When the water canon ceased the riot police followed, beating all and any in their way – women, children – it was all the same to them. I and another woman were hit with wood by police as we tried to assist a 60+ woman who had fallen, and who was also hit. The police were chasing behind us beating at us, driving us forward into another group of police who were again beating everyone who came in contact with them, with pieces of wood, not police issue batons but lengths of undressed pine. We were being driven straight towards the pro-government thugs who were also waiting to beat anyone who came their way.
I kept asking the police where I was supposed to go and they just kept shooting at me with their weapons – once the ones behind me realized I was a foreign woman they stopped hitting me, and one who hit me with a plank as I was chased towards him even apologized several times, and herded me to a concrete staircase. His mates were meanwhile beating the crap out of everyone around me, and I saw two men beaten and thrown down the stairs beside me by police. One man landed unconscious at the bottom, the other was an elderly man who I saw a few minutes later dazed and leaning against a car, but who refused my offer of help. The unconscious man was tended to by others and taken to the road, where they waved down a van to take him to hospital (see pic) – a dangerous thing because there were many vehicles full of pro-government supporters on the road still attacking protesters.
I managed to text my friend from whom I had become separated, to find if she was okay, and she advised me to get off the street as soon as possible because pro-government supporters were on the rampage. This was difficult as I had no idea where I was. I asked directions, and was told to go in a certain direction, but soon discovered they had directed me wrongly and were following me, as they were pro-government, saw I was drenched and therefore to them, an enemy. Luckily a woman intervened and took me to a mosque, and got me a taxi to take me home.
The usual route was blocked by numerous police road blocks, and even the street that leads to my house, in a very westernized part of town, had a road block and was inspecting the occupants of all cars, but we passed through without problem, and I finally reached home. As I walked to the steps my phone rang, and it was my other friend from whom I had become separated – he was on his way to hospital with a broken leg.
Half an hour later I received another call telling me that the death toll is now three, with several in intensive care, and that this friend took injured to two hospitals which were both overflowing with victims of the violence – she said hundreds – and that the police are now going to the hospitals and arresting the injured.
The question has to be asked – why did the security forces and riot police attack the peaceful protesters, instead of protecting them from and/or detaining the rock-throwing violent pro-government thugs?
Why were there so few police present at an event which had already attracted some 4000 people the previous day, and which had been attacked by thugs?
The answer seems to be because the government deliberately ensured that the protesters would be brutally attacked, thus completely abdicating its responsibility to maintain public order, let alone conduct itself for the good of its citizens.
Having experienced this, I can only say I now understand only too well why the Jordanian people are demanding change.
And it begs the question – who is really running this country?