Jordan price hikes spark protests, royal reprieve

Hundreds of Jordanians protested against fuel and electricity price hikes. (AFP pic)

AMMAN: 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 on Thursday and early on 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% on fuel and a 19% hike in electricity prices, as well as laying out plans for a new income tax.

But early on 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.

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 US$35 billion (RM139 billion), equivalent to 90% of its gross domestic product.

In 2016, it secured a US$723-million (RM2.879 billion) 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.

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

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