Jordan king backtracks on price hikes after mass protests

Jordan king backtracks on price hikes after mass protests
Jordan's Abdullah has backtracked on a decision to increase fuel prices after mass protests over subsidy reforms broke out in the kingdom.
2 min read
01 June, 2018
Protests erupted in Jordan after recent decisions to increase prices [Getty]
Jordan's King Abdullah ordered a freeze on planned fuel and electricity price increases, government officials said Friday, after angry protests broke out across the cash-strapped kingdom.

The king ordered the government to shelve fuel price hikes, set to take effect on Friday, as the Muslim-majority country marks the holy month of Ramadan, official Petra news agency reported.

The u-turn was due to the country's "economic conditions in the month of Ramadan", a statement said, "despite the rise in oil prices globally and at an unprecedented rate since 2014".

Past price hikes have triggered riots in Jordan, a country of 9.5 million with few resources, burdened by poverty and unemployment.

Hundreds of Jordanians demonstrated in Amman and other cities on late Thursday and early Friday, calling for the "fall of the government" as they blocked roads with cars and blazing tyres.

It came after the government decreed rises of up to 5.5 percent on fuels and a 19 percent hike in electricity prices, as well as laying out plans for a new income tax.

Prices have steadily risen in Jordan over recent years, as the cash-strapped government pushes through reforms demanded by the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

The country has a public debt of some $35 billion (30 billion euros), equivalent to 90 percent of its gross domestic product.

In 2016, Amman secured a $723 million three-year credit line from the IMF to support economic and financial reforms, but 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 percent since February.

According to official estimates, 18.5 percent of the population is unemployed, while 20 percent 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 Tabarbur suburb of Amman motorists blocked roads with their cars.