May 17, 2015 / 6:44 PM / 3 years ago

Jordan's interior minister resigns, police chiefs dismissed

AMMAN (Reuters) - King Abdullah accepted the resignation of Jordan’s interior minister and the government dismissed top police chiefs over reported rights abuses in prisons and the mishandling of a crackdown in the south of the country, officials said on Sunday.

Hussein Al-Majali speaks during his joint news conference with Jordan's Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh and United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) representative to Jordan Andrew Harper to officially announce the opening of the new Azraq Syrian Refugee camp near Al Azraq, east of Amman, April 30, 2014. REUTERS/Muhammad Hamed

Two officials contacted by Reuters said the monarch accepted the resignation of Interior Minister Hussein al-Majali and a decision was taken to retire the heads of the country’s police and gendarme.

One official said the reasons for their dismissals were the heavy-handed police crackdown in the poor, southern tribal city of Maan and the torture of a detainee during interrogation that led to his death.

Celebratory shots were fired in Maan after the news of the dismissal of Majali, whose forces’ tough handling of several suspects wanted on criminal offences had led to widespread local anger in recent days.

Although civil unrest is rare in Jordan, there have been violent protests in Maan in recent years, often reflecting Bedouin resentment against the government as well as tribal rivalries. Muslim Salafi fundamentalists also are active there.

The death in custody earlier this month of a member of a prominent tribe in northern Jordan - he allegedly was beaten to death after being arrested on drug charges - triggered allegations of police brutality and led to threats of reprisals against authorities.

But human rights activists said the dismissals of several police officers implicated in the death of the 21-year-old suspect were not enough to assuage public opinion over the latest case of alleged police abuse.

Jordan’s rulers are careful not to anger tribes who provide most of the manpower for the country’s security forces and form the bedrock of support for the Hashemite monarchy.

Majali was criticized for threatening to disrupt a peaceful rally planned by Jordan’s largest political party, the opposition Muslim Brotherhood, on the pretext that it was not licensed. The Islamist party eventually decided not to hold the event to avoid a confrontation.

Some hardliners within the police, emboldened by Jordan’s participation in the U.S.-led campaign against Islamic State militants in Syria, also have been arresting people on the pretext of fighting extremists.

Rights groups had criticized the imprisonment and trials of scores of Islamists and other activists in recent years without proper legal safeguards, saying the crackdown was a sign of the kingdom’s increasing intolerance of political dissent.

Jordan, which is reeling under the impact of more than 600,000 Syrian refugees, also has been slammed by rights groups for deporting scores of refugees and for sealing the border to prevent the entry of hundreds of women and children in need of urgent relief.

Reporting by Suleiman Al-Khalidi; Editing by Dominic Evans and Paul Simao

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