Jordan’s king freezes government price hikes after protests

Hundreds of Jordanians demonstrate in Amman and other cities amid growing financial woes, blocking roads and burning tires

Thousands of Jordanians take to the streets of Amman on May 30, 2018 (AFP PHOTO / Khalil MAZRAAWI)
Thousands of Jordanians take to the streets of Amman on May 30, 2018 (AFP PHOTO / Khalil MAZRAAWI)

AMMAN, Jordan — 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 tires.

That came after the government decreed rises of up to 5.5 percent on fuels and a 19% 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, the official Petra news agency said.

Jordan’s King Abdullah II attends talks of the Arab League summit in the Jordanian Dead Sea resort of Sweimeh on March 29, 2017. (AFP/Khalil Mazraawi)

Prices 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, equivalent to 90% 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% since February.

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

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