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20 Injured in Jordan Pro-Iraq Rally

February 21, 1998

MAAN, Jordan (AP) _ Police fired bullets and tear gas Saturday to disperse about 1,000 pro-Iraq protesters, some of whom shot at police or threw stones. At least 20 people were injured in the daylong violence, including three policemen.

The riot in Maan was the worst violence in Jordan since unrest began over the U.S. threat to attack Iraq. The government sent the army to put down the protest, one of many that have erupted across the Arab world.

King Hussein told army soldiers and police at the entrance to the restive southern city that the protesters would be punished.

``Those who have participated in the riots will bear the responsibility,″ he said.

Prime Minister Abdul-Salam Majali told the London-based Middle East Broadcast Corp. a state of emergency might be announced if the trouble continued.

On Friday, police quelled a smaller pro-Iraq demonstration with gunfire, killing one person. Three people were injured.

Simmering anger against the fatal shooting, and a ban imposed 11 days ago on public demonstration blew up Saturday when about 200 people attacked a police station before dawn and set fire to parts of a state-run bank and an automatic teller machine in the Bedouin city.

At noon, another group of 200 masked men clashed with police in central Maan but were pushed back by tear gas.

Hours later, about 1,000 people marched to a hospital to claim the body of Mohammed Abdullah al-Kateb, the 28-year-old killed Friday.

Among the protesters were dozens of al-Kateb’s relatives, witnesses said. The protesters carried an empty coffin and chanted ``Down with the government!″ and ``Our blood and soul we sacrifice for you, Saddam Hussein!″

Violence broke out as demonstrators reached the hospital gate, with police firing tear gas and _ after they were shot at by one protester _ live ammunition and rubber bullets. Protesters retaliated with stones before being dispersed after an hour.

Demonstrations have occurred recently in other Arab countries. In several West Bank towns, Palestinians staged pro-Iraq rallies Saturday, defying a largely ineffective ban by Yasser Arafat’s Palestinian Authority.

About 50 journalists demonstrated in the Egyptian capital of Cairo. They stomped on hand-drawn American and Israeli flags and set them on fire.

Earlier Saturday, King Hussein flew to Maan, 250 kilometers (150 miles) south of the Jordanian capital, Amman, and held talks with senior security advisors at a military camp outside the city.

The government says the ban on public rallies is not against neighboring Iraq, but aimed at preserving national security at a time of mounting regional tension.

But many residents of Maan, a desert city home to Bedouin tribes, see the ban as undemocratic.

The city has always been politically active. In 1989, riots in Maan over price hikes and curbs on public freedom brought about democratic reforms, leading to the first parliamentary elections in more than two decades. A multiparty system also was revived.

Two years later, Hussein lifted martial law, which had been in force since 1948.

Update hourly