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Jordan's crisis: Is an uneasy peace emerging?

Jordan protests against the king are the largest and most sustained since the start of uprisings in the region nearly two years ago, but the explosive protests expected this afternoon have yet to materialize.

By Nicholas SeeleyCorrespondent / November 16, 2012

Jordanian Protesters from the Islamic Action Front and other opposition parties hold a demonstration area after Friday prayers in Amman, Jordan.

Raad Adayleh/AP

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AMMAN, JORDAN

Three days after Jordan's government sparked nationwide riots by drastically reducing subsidies on fuel, tensions remain high.

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Since Tuesday night, as clashes broke out in one Jordanian town after another, media, analysts, and even local activists worried that Jordan had passed a point of no return, after two years in which a small, but persistent protest movement has pressed for democratic and economic reforms.

But the massive and explosive protests expected today have failed to materialize, raising hopes that an uneasy peace is again settling over the desert kingdom.

"I think everybody is really scared at what happened in terms of violence," says Mustafa Hamarneh, a prominent Jordanian analyst. "The last few days have been a very important wake up call for everybody. It is not a time for arm twisting. We need to think outside the box, we need to work together, and we need to save the country."

Despite the protests, the government defended its decision to drop fuel subsidies and effectively raise prices for cooking and heating gas by 54 percent, saying they are necessary to reduce a massive budget deficit. And state media has accused the opposition of seizing on popular anger and encouraging violence in its effort to unseat the government.

So far, only one person has been killed though dozens have been wounded and more than 100 arrested, in the first sustained wave of protests to hit the country since the start of uprisings in the region nearly two years ago. The end of Friday prayer has become the traditional time for protest in the Arab world, and after three days of at least partially spontaneous demonstrations, many worried that today's demonstration would be massive and out of control. 

Though a crowd of thousands gathered around the capital city’s downtown mosque and chanted aggressive slogans against the regime, this morning's protests were both peaceful and short.

Police presence was nearly invisible until a small group of pro regime extremists began singing and chanting. At that point police officers moved in to separate the two groups, and the square was swarmed by Jordanian riot police, or darak, who took up a horseshoe formation between them.

At one point there was a scuffle among the protesters, as a group of young men confronted the police. The darak stood, impassive, as hundreds of young men angrily shouted a refrain from the regional Arab uprisings, a line not heard in Jordan before this week: "The people want the fall of the regime."

The anger quickly subsided as protest leaders on a nearby truck drew the crowd back to chanting slightly less confrontational slogans: "Freedom is from God, whether you like or not, Abdullah," participants shouted.

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