June 19, 2018, 8:05 pm
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Jordan’s king replaces PM to subdue protests

AMMAN/DUBAI -- Jordan’s King Abdullah replaced his prime minister on Monday in a move to defuse the biggest protests in years, over IMF-backed reforms that have hit the poor.

Government plans to lift taxes have brought thousands of people onto the streets in Amman, the capital, and other parts of Jordan since last week, shaking a US-allied Arab country that has remained stable through years of regional turmoil.

King Abdullah appointed Omar al-Razzaz, a former World Bank economist, to form the new government after accepting Hani Mulki’s resignation, a ministerial source said. Razzaz was education minister in Mulki’s government.

In his letter accepting the resignation, the monarch praised Mulki for his “bravery in taking difficult decisions that do not gain popularity” and asked him to stay on in a caretaker role until the new government is formed.

Still, around 2,000 protesters flocked to a rally near the cabinet office late on Monday night, waving flags and chanting: “The people want to bring down parliament.”

Police chief Major General Fadel al-Hamoud said the protests remained under control, though officers had detained 60 people in recent days, with 42 security forces injured.

“The security forces are here to protect citizens, things are going well,” Major General Hussein Hawatmeh, head of the Gendarmerie security department, told Reuters at the protest. “But we will not allow anyone to stray from the peaceful path.”

While some celebrated the change of government, a union leader said a strike planned for Wednesday would go ahead unless the draft income tax law was withdrawn.

Jordan, which has a peace treaty with Israel, has navigated years of instability at its borders, including wars in Iraq and Syria and conflict in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

But the instability has hit the economy of a country that is poor in resources and hosts close to 700,000 Syrian refugees. Unemployment among Jordanians stands at 18.4 percent, according to Jordan’s department of statistics.

“They have been following a policy that is draining the citizen,” Rola Abu Khadra, an actress protesting with her friends at midnight, told Reuters.

“Even if they removed Mulki and replaced him with anyone else in the world and the policies don’t change, that would mean we have achieved nothing,” she said.

Public anger has grown over government policies since a steep general sales tax hike earlier this year and the abolition of bread subsidies, both measures driven by the International Monetary Fund.

In a sign the tax hikes could be shelved, the official Petra news agency, citing the speaker of parliament, said MPs were on course to ask the king’s permission to hold an exceptional session, with a majority demanding the changes be withdrawn.

“For us, our cause is the draft income tax law. The individuals (in government) do not concern us if they change, we want to change the approach of the government,” said Ali al-Abous, head of the Professional Unions Association. -- Reuters
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