Jordan price hikes spark protests, royal reprieve

AFP , Friday 1 Jun 2018

Thousands of Jordanians take to the streets of Amman on May 30, 2018 to protest against a new income tax draft law which was approved by the government recently and sent to parliament for endoresement. (AFP photo)

Jordan's King Abdullah II ordered the government on Friday to freeze new price hikes on fuel and electricity, officials said, after angry protests across the cash-strapped country.

Past price hikes have triggered riots in Jordan, a country of 9.5 million with few resources, burdened by poverty and unemployment.

Late Thursday and early Friday, hundreds of Jordanians demonstrated in Amman and other cities, calling for the "fall of the government" as they blocked roads with cars and blazing tyres.

That came after the government decreed rises of up to 5.5 percent on fuels and a 19 percent hike in electricity prices, as well as laying out plans for a new income tax.

But early Friday, the king ordered the government to shelve hikes set to take effect that day as the country's Muslim majority observe the holy month of Ramadan, official Petra news agency said.

Price have steadily risen in Jordan over recent years as the cash-strapped government pushes reforms demanded by the International Monetary Fund.

The country has a public debt of some $35 billion (30 billion euros), equivalent to 90 percent of its gross domestic product.

In 2016, it secured a $723-million three-year credit line from the IMF to support economic and financial reforms and was told it must drop subsidies and raise taxes to meet conditions for future loans.

Earlier this year, Jordan as much as doubled bread prices after dropping subsidies on the staple, as well as hiking value-added taxes on several goods including cigarettes.

The price of fuel has risen on five occasions since the beginning of the year, while electricity bills have shot up 55 percent since February.

According to official estimates, 18.5 percent of the population is unemployed, while 20 percent are on the brink of poverty.

More than 1,000 demonstrators rallied outside the prime minister's office in central Amman late Thursday, chanting: "The people want the government to fall".

In the northern cities of Irbid and Ajlun, some protesters cut off roads with burning tyres, while in the Tabarbur suburb of Amman motorists blocked roads with their cars.

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