AMMAN - Jordan announced on Tuesday it would raise fuel prices, including a 53 percent hike on cooking gas, sparking nationwide protests in which two policemen were lightly wounded and a courthouse torched, police and state television said.
"Trade and Industry Minister Hatem al-Halwani decided to adjust the price of fuel, raising the cost of household gas from 6.5 dinars to 10 dinars per cylinder," a 53 percent rise, state TV said.
"A litre of octane petrol (will rise) from 0.71 dinars to 0.80 dinars," it added.
The hike was to help reduce a massive government deficit, which Prime Minister Abdullah Nsur told the television is 3.5 billion dinars (around $5 billion) this year.
"The financial situation in the country has been greatly affected by the Arab Spring... The economic situation is very precarious," he said.
"The decision to re-examine fuel subsidies needed to be taken two years ago," Nsur added, saying the government would subsidise low-income families to help with the higher prices.
More than 2,000 people demonstrated in Amman against the price hike, chanting "Nsur out," and "long live the great people of Jordan," holding banners that read "revolution of the hungry," and "is this in our interest?"
In the northern city of Irbid, around 1,000 people protested, and police said two anti-riot policemen were shot and lightly wounded.
Several hundred people demonstrated elsewhere, including in Karak, where police said a courthouse was torched, and also in the other southern cities of Tafileh and Maan.
"This decision is a gamble that provokes the people and challenges them. It's the most dangerous decision in 10 years," Zaki Bani Rsheid, deputy leader of Jordan's Muslim Brotherhood, said.
"The people are already poor and crushed. If Jordan has elected governments that fight corruption, then we can raise prices."
Jordanians have been staging street protests to demand reform since last year, and more demonstrations are expected following the fuel price hike, which comes ahead of a January 23 general election, seen as key to introducing much-needed change.
The kingdom, which imports 95 percent of its energy needs, is struggling to find alternatives to unstable Egyptian gas supplies, which normally cover 80 percent of the kingdom's power production.
Since 2011, the pipeline supplying gas from Egypt to both Israel and Jordan has been attacked 14 times.
With desert covering 92 percent of its territory, Jordan is one of the world's 10 driest countries and wants to use atomic energy to fire desalination plants to overcome its dire water shortage.