AMMAN (Reuters) – Hundreds of Jordanians took to the streets of the capital Amman on Sunday in a fourth day of nightly protests against IMF-backed price increases that have shaken the kingdom, witnesses said.
They said demonstrators who converged near the cabinet office chanted slogans calling for the sacking of Prime Minister Hani Mulki and saying they would disband only if the government rescinded a tax bill it sent to parliament last month which critics say worsens living standards.
“We are here until we bring the downfall of the bill … This government is shameful,” demonstrators chanted as police prevented them from approaching the heavily-guarded government offices.
Mulki refused on Saturday to scrap the tax reform bill backed by the International Monetary Fund that has provoked the largest protests in over five years against steep price rises, saying it was up to parliament to decide its fate.
In 2012 Jordan was rocked by several days of civil unrest also against the backdrop of tough IMF-imposed austerity measures that included lifting of fuel subsidies.
Unions representing tens of thousands of employees in both the public and private sector have also called for a general strike on Wednesday after their demands for the bill to be scrapped were rejected by the government.
Public anger over IMF-driven government policies has grown since a steep general sales tax hike earlier this year and the abolition of bread subsidies, a staple item for the poor.
The tax hikes are aimed at bringing down public debt to 77 percent of GDP in 2021.
The government says it needs more funds for public services and argues that tax reforms reduce social disparities by placing a heavier burden on high earners and leaving lower-paid state workers relatively unscathed
Jordan’s economy, which has been hit by regional turmoil, has struggled to grow in the last few years under chronic deficits as private foreign capital and aid flows have slipped.
Critics say the measures will hurt the poor and protesters have slammed politicians for squandering public funds and corruption.
“Our demands are legitimate. No, no to corruption,” chanted the demonstrators urging King Abdullah, who is seen as a unifying force, to intervene and crack down on official graft.
(Reporting by Suleiman Al-Khalidi; editing by David Stamp)