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Third day of rioting in Jordan

By WAFA AMR

AMMAN, Jordan -- Rioting sparked by government-ordered price hikes raged for a third day Thursday in at least four southern towns and several adjacent villages, leaving up to five people dead and 200 wounded, sources said.

Despite government reports that security forces have 'contained' the worst anti-government protests in recent Jordanian history, witnesses said unrest continued in the towns of Ma'an, Tafileh, Karak and Mazar, where two men were killed early Thursday when the mayor opened fire on demonstrators with an assault rifle.

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Witnesses and sources in the southern region where most of the rioting has taken place provided the names of four dead, and said there were reports of a fifth whose name was not available. The government has made no announcement on casualties.

Sources in Mazar, which is near Karak, said three other demonstrators were in critical condition after being shot by the mayor. One of those killed in Mazar was a member of the Jordanian air force who had joined the protesters, the sources said.

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Two demonstrators in Ma'an -- ages 21 and 26 -- died of wounds Wednesday, sources said.

Tafileh, Ma'an and Karak remained under strict curfew Thursday, but residents ignored the restrictions and violent riots were continuing, witnesses said.

In Karak, 12 policemen were wounded in overnight clashes with protesters, sources said.

Tanks and troops had surrounded some of the towns after rioters burned cars and buildings to protest government-imposed increases in the price of fuel, cigarettes, beverages and utilities.

An editorial published Thursday in two Amman newspapers echoed claims by a government spokesman a day earlier that the disturbances had been quelled. The editorial accused foreign reporters of giving 'a false picture of events.'

'The disturbances in the southern parts of the kingdom have been contained and were dealt with in a responsible manner,' the government spokesman said Wednesday. 'The government has complete confidence in the awareness of citizens in maintaining the security and stability of the kingdom.'

The unrest was the most widespread anti-government violence in recent Jordanian history, Arab diplomats said.

In Washington, King Hussein of Jordan said Wednesday, 'I believe everything is under control.' He said the unrest was 'really a result of measures that had to be taken.'

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Hussein was in Washington for talks with President Bush on economic aid for Jordan and Middle East peace efforts.

Crown Prince Hassan, Hussein's brother and heir to the Jordanian throne, met late Wednesday with members of the upper house of Parliament, the official Petra news agency said. It said Hassan called for a conference to 'examine the economic situation' and stressed the need for a constructive dialogue to foster understanding between the government and the people.

Authorities imposed the curfew in Karak after rioters burned cars and two banks -- the government-owned Jordan Bank and the private Islamic Bank -- said a witness reached by telephone from Amman.

Some demonstrators climbed minarets in Karak and called through loudspeakers for the dismissal of the government of Prime Minister Zaid Rifai and officials responsible for the crisis that triggered the price increases.

Many of the demonstrators in Ma'an and Tafileh carried knives and threw stones, the witnesses said.

Witnesses said rioters in Ma'an burned three banks, set fire to telephone equipment at the Transport Ministry and looted the Civil Consumer Department, where food and clothing is stored for civil servants.

In Tafileh, demonstrators set fire to the Ministry of Supply and Ministry of Works buildings as well as a municipal building, banks and cars, the witnesses said.

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Unrest also was reported Tuesday in the nearby villages of Wadi Moujeb, Wadi Moussa and Shobak, where demonstrators stoned police cars, the witnesses said.

The demonstrations were sparked by price increases, ranging from 15 percent to 25 percent, that were announced Monday as part of a series of austerity measures imposed after Jordan agreed with the International Monetary Fund on terms for economic assistance.

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