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Jordan's Abdullah calls for reviewing tax bill that sparked protests

Trade unions say review is 'positive' step but still call for general strike on Wednesday
For nearly a week, the capital and other cities have been hit by angry demonstrations (Reuters)

Jordan's King Abdullah II called on Tuesday for a review of a controversial draft tax law that has sparked a wave of anti-austerity protests and led to the prime minister's resignation.

While Jordan's trade unions said the review is a "positive" step, they called for a general strike on Wednesday with new demonstrations expected overnight after Jordanians break their Ramadan fast.

For nearly a week, the capital and other cities have been hit by demonstrations against reforms backed by the International Monetary Fund that have brought repeated price hikes.

Hours after premier Hani Mulki stepped down on Monday in an effort to quell the unrest, protesters were back in the streets of Amman.


In a letter charging new premier Omar al-Razzaz with forming a government, King Abdullah said the new cabinet "must carry out a comprehensive review of the tax system" to avoid "unjust taxes that do not achieve justice and balance between the incomes of the poor and the rich".

Late on Monday, the king warned that Jordan was "at a crossroads", blaming the economic woes on regional instability, the burden of hosting hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees and a lack of international support.

Protesters on Monday night chanted "we want rights and duties, not tips and handouts" and "down with the IMF" as they gathered under a heavy police presence.

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.


It was the latest in a series of austerity measures since Amman secured a $723m loan from the IMF in 2016.

Since January, resource-poor Jordan, which suffers from high unemployment and poverty, has seen repeated price hikes of staples such as bread, as well as extra taxes on basic goods.

Fuel prices have increased five times since the start of the year, while electricity bills have surged by 55 percent since February.

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

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After a two-hour meeting Tuesday afternoon, the head of the trade unions' council Ali al-Abous called on Jordan's new premier to "open a constructive dialogue" with trade unions and civil society groups "to get out of this impasse that the draft income tax law has put us in".

The head of Jordan's Bar Association, Mazen Arshidat, said the unions "were determined to withdraw" the tax reform bill.

A majority of deputies - 78 out of 130 - have said they will vote against the draft legislation.

The bill is one of a tranche of measures aimed at slashing Jordan's public debt from over 90 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) to 77 percent by 2021.

King Abdullah said gas supply cuts due to attacks on an Egyptian pipeline to Israel and Jordan had cost the kingdom some $5.6bn.

He added that the closure of the borders with the kingdom's main export markets, war-torn Syria and Iraq, and the cost of securing those frontiers, had added to Jordan's economic woes.