Jordanian police clash with protesters over union crackdown

By Suleiman Al-Khalidi

AMMAN, Aug 4 (Reuters) - Jordanian security forces on Tuesday used tear gas to disperse stone-throwing demonstrators it blamed for disrupting public services during a protest demanding the release of leaders of the opposition-run teachers union, state media said.

A government source said seven security forces were injured in the protest in the southern city of Karak, with violence breaking out for the first time in an escalating crisis between the authorities and the union that has become a leading source of dissent.

The government on July 25 closed the offices of the 100,000 strong union and suspended its activity for two years, in one of the largest crackdowns on a major dissident group in recent years.

U.S. based Human Rights Watch last week criticised the crackdown that has included arrests of dozens and urged the authorities to end intimidation tactics that bar people from exercising their right to freedom of association.

"Shuttering one of the Jordan's few independent labor unions following a protracted dispute with the government and on dubious legal grounds raises serious concerns about the government's respect for the rule of law," said Michael Page, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch

The union went on strike last year, shutting down schools across Jordan for a month in one of the longest and most disruptive public sector strikes in the country's history.

In recent weeks its leadership has accused the government of failing to honour a deal signed last October that ended the strike.

Prosecutors charged its jailed leaders with incitement and financial and administrative wrongdoing which the union says are baseless.

The cities of Irbid, Karak, Jerash and Tafila have seen scattered night protests in the past few days with hundreds of opposition activists taking to the streets, calling for the government's resignation, an end to corruption and the release of jailed unionists.

(Reporting by Suleiman Al-Khalidi; editing by Richard Pullin)

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