Middle East

King warns Jordan ‘at crossroads’ over economic protests

Jordan’s King Abdullah II has warned that the country is “at a crossroads”, after a week of anti-austerity protests that continued overnight despite the prime minister’s resignation.

Around 2,000 protesters gathered close to the prime minister’s office in central Amman, hours after premier Hani Mulki stepped down on Monday.

The king blamed the country’s economic woes on regional instability, the burden of hosting hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees and a lack of international support.

“Jordan today stands at a crossroads: either it can come out of the crisis and provide a dignified life to our citizens, or, God forbid, it can go into the unknown — but we have to know where we are going,” he told a group of journalists late Monday, according to the official Petra agency.

Protesters gathered overnight under a heavy police presence near the premier’s office shouting slogans against the government and the International Monetary Fund, which has demanded economic reforms.

Some brought along children and others presented trays of sweets to security forces.

Last month, the government proposed a new income tax law, yet to be approved by parliament, aimed at raising taxes on employees by at least five percent and on companies by between 20 and 40 percent.

They are the latest in a series of measures since Amman secured a $723-million three-year credit line from the International Monetary Fund in 2016.

Since January, Jordan — which suffers from high unemployment and has few natural resources — has seen repeated price rises including for staples such as bread, as well as extra taxes on basic goods.

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.

The measures have sparked some of the biggest economic protests in five years.

Jordan, a key US ally, has largely avoided the unrest witnessed by other countries in the region since the Arab Spring revolts broke out in 2011, although protests did flare late that year after the government cut fuel subsidies.

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