Jordan: Anti-tax protests resume as new government seeks dialogue

Protesters take to the streets, months after similar rallies called for an end to tax reform bill, austerity measures.

Protesters chant slogans during a protest against the government''s tough austerity measures in Amman
Protesters chant slogans during a protest against the government's austerity measures in the capital, Amman [Muhammad Hamed/Reuters]

Hundreds of Jordanians have protested in the capital Amman against the government’s planned tax increases and high unemployment rates.

Demonstrators on Thursday evening were met with riot police who fired several rounds of tear gas near Prime Minister Omar al-Razzaz‘s office.

The gathering was the first major one since Jordanians took to the streets in June to protest a tax reform bill and austerity measures backed by the International Monetary Fund.

The latest protests erupted after parliament last month approved a similar tax bill, widely seen as making few changes to the unpopular one that was scrapped after the summer demonstrations.

During the summer, the protests, which were the largest Jordan had seen in years, led to the resignation of the country’s previous Prime Minister Hani al-Mulki.

The new leader, al-Razzaz, is a former World Bank economist who previously served as Jordan’s education minister.

He had promised a more inclusive style of governing and pledged he would place corrupt officials and businessmen behind bars, but is also under pressure from international lenders to cut the government’s large deficit.

Government seeking dialogue

Protesters, however, say al-Razzaz has yet to deliver on his promises.

Judicial source said authorities had arrested several people for chanting slogans critical of King Abdullah as well as the government.

“[For] anyone who breaches the law there will be punishment,” government spokeswoman Jumana Ghunaimat told reporters on Thursday.

“There are those who want to sow destruction … We must safeguard Jordan’s stability and security,” she said, adding that the government wants to open dialogue with the protesters.

Many Jordanians say the government, which faces a record public debt of around $40 bn and desperately needs to raise revenue, is eroding the disposable incomes of poorer and middle-class Jordanians.

In a move to defuse tensions, King Abdullah ordered the government on Thursday to draft a general amnesty law that pardons several thousand people jailed for convictions ranging from petty crime to embezzlement.

“This will contribute to easing pressures facing citizens,” the monarch was quoted as saying in a royal palace statement.

Unlike the summer protests, which were largely led by unions, the renewed demonstrations have no clear leadership and many of those participating come from provincial towns hard hit by the economic downturn.

Jordan has long suffered from economic problems and remains heavily reliant on foreign aid. It also hosts more than 650,000 Syrian refugees.

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies