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Jordan unions launch general strike over IMF-backed austerity Open in fullscreen

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Jordan unions launch general strike over IMF-backed austerity

Jordanians holding up a protest sign reading 'We don't have [money]' [Getty]

Date of publication: 6 June, 2018

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Protests have gripped the capital Amman since a new price hike for electricity and fuel were announced last week.

Jordanian unions staged a nationwide strike on Wednesday over IMF-backed austerity measures to rein in the kingdom's public debt and spending.

Doctors walked out from hospitals at 9am local time and were set to strike for much of the day, according to the head of Jordan's doctor union Ali al-Abous. 

"We are striking to send a message to the new government (to) drop the income tax draft law and hold a national dialogue on it," he told AFP.

Lawyers also partook in the strike, attending court sessions in black robes but without presenting cases. 

Jordan's main federation of unions also called for a protest outside its headquarters at 1pm.

Meanwhile shops shut their doors, although many would be closed anyway during Ramadan during which Muslims fast from dusk to dawn. 

Protests continued Wednesday overnight despite King Abdullah II's call to to review the proposed tax reforms, which parliament has not yet signed into law. 

Demonstrators gathered in Amman after breaking their Ramadan fast, jostling with police and waving flags. 

Trade unions welcomed the king's announcement to review the law, but still called for a general strike. 

King Abdullah appointed a new premier Omar al-Razzaz to quell popular protests, saying a comprehensive review was necessary to "avoid unjust taxes that do not achieve justice and balance between the incomes of the poor and the rich".

Late Monday, the king had warned 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.

But protesters have said they seek real change, including scrapping the tax bill, and that appointing a new premier without fundamental reforms is irrelevant.

It's unclear whether Razzaz would have such a mandate. 

Last month the government adopted a draft income tax law, yet to be approved by parliament, aimed at increasing taxes on employees by at least five per cent and on companies by between 20 and 40 per cent.

And last week it announced a new price hike for electricity and fuel, before revoking it under orders from the king following protests.

They were the latest measures in a series of economic reforms since Amman secured a $723-million three-year credit line from the IMF in 2016.

The loan, intended to support economic and financial reforms, has the long-term objective of reducing Jordan's public debt from about 94 per cent of GDP to 77 per cent by 2021.

Agencies contributed to this report. 

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