Protesters in Jordan have begun wearing yellow vests as demonstrations over high unemployment and the economy spread outside the capital and the government accused opposition forces outside the country of inciting the unrest.
On Wednesday night dozens of young men wore yellow vests during a protest in the port city of Aqaba, about 320 kilometres south of Amman, recalling the yellow-vest protest movement in France.
"All of the young men across the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan want to work so they can help the state," one yellow-vested protester told Al Ghad newspaper in a video published on line.
“Women and men are stuck at home without work, there is unemployment, what can we do? That is what is driving us to the streets.”
“We are exploding,” another protester said. “For God’s sake, just employ us!”
Also on Wednesday evening, dozens of protesters in yellow vests used burning tyres to block the main road in the village of Taybeh, 100km north of Amman.
The demonstrations marked the first time that the two-week-old youth protest movement spread outside Amman. The protests that began in late November were ostensibly triggered by the recent passage of an unpopular income-tax law and high unemployment. More protests were expected at the prime minister's office on Thursday evening.
Unions and political parties have maintained their distance from the leaderless protest movement, with the Jordan Engineers Association issuing a statement Wednesday to deny it had called on members to take part.
The Jordanian government on Thursday said opposition forces outside the kingdom were trying to “distort the internal situation for agendas not in the nation’s interests”, and warned against “taking advantage of the freedom of expression to incite chaos”.
In a press conference, government spokeswoman Jumana Ghunaimat accused “opposition abroad” of calling for a constitutional monarchy in Jordan and stirring up protests.
“We must pay attention to those who try to distort the civilised image of protests in Jordan and push it towards a suspicious path that harms the homeland, its security and stability,” Ms Ghunaimat said.
“This suspicious scene is linked to the tens of those who call themselves the ‘opposition abroad’ and Jordanians should be aware of this.”
She said the government was aware of the difficult economic climate and that the government and King Abdullah were following up on Jordanians’ living conditions.
“The state is not far from what is going on in the street and his majesty the king is fully aware of what the people are suffering from,” Ms Ghunaimat said, noting that the government is looking to “strengthen political reform” alongside economic policy.
Despite government claims, the protests include residents of the capital as well as distant provinces and disparate groups ranging from pro-monarchists to tribalists and Islamists. But they have been unanimous in calling for a change in economic policy and the creation of jobs.
In their speeches, chants and interviews they have not espoused a political agenda or opposition to the king, but rather a rethink of recent austerity measures and the economic policies that they claim have led to a sell-off of the country’s assets, the accumulation of $38 billion in public debt, and record unemployment.
Ms Ghunaimat confirmed that authorities have released several protesters detained this week who did not have other outstanding criminal cases.
The unemployment rate in Jordan stands at 18.6 per cent overall, but is estimated to be higher than 30 per cent among Jordanians between the ages of 15 and 35.
The government, which faces a projected $911 million budget deficit for 2019 and a current debt level of more than 95 per cent of GDP, says the income tax law is essential to meet conditions for continued financial support from the International Monetary Fund.