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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 20 January 2019

Jordan arrests 17 after anti-austerity protests 

While the previous tax bill brought down the government after mass rallies, the latest demonstrations are smaller

Seventeen Jordanians were arrested after about 2,000 protesters gathered in Amman on Thursday to demonstrate against a controversial fiscal reform bill.

The attorney general in the capital decided to "arrest 17 people who he accused of participating the previous day in a protest near the prime minister's office and of provoking trouble which resulted in police and members of the security forces being wounded", a judicial source said.

Those arrested would be kept in custody for a week, the source said, without specifying how many police had been wounded.

Jordanians took to the streets of Amman on Thursday to protest against an income tax law adopted in November under an austerity programme aimed at reducing public debt.

Some donned yellow florescent vests, recalling the so-called "Gilets Jaune" or yellow vests protest movement in France.

The protesters gathered near Prime Minister Omar Al Razzaz's office, which was cordoned off by security forces.

"Down with the tax law," read one sign, held aloft by demonstrators calling for "reforms and change".

"We want a government of patriots, not a gang of thieves," the protesters said.

Tribes from across the country joined in dabkeh line dances and sang folk songs tweaked to warn the government of a “popular revolution” against taxes.

The protesters, who came from across the kingdom, refuted government claims that they were being guided by external forces or political groups.

“There is no organiser, there is no outside influence, everyone is just coming on their own accord because they are fed up with the situation,” said Mahmoud Ababneh, a 43-year-old Uber driver who came from the village of Sal 100 kilometres north of the capital.

“We are seeing longer hours, work drying up and prices are rising - and the government’s only answer is to increase taxes and we can’t keep up anymore,” the father of three told The National.

In a statement on Friday, the Directorate of Public Security denied reports that its personnel had broken up the initial sit-in near the fourth circle in Amman. It said that police only intervened when the protesters moved from their original site and began to block roads, the state-run Petra News Agency reported.

Jordan media reported that at least two police officers had been injured and five protesters had been arrested on a charge of possession of bladed weapons. But reports cited activists on the ground saying the detainees were among the leaders of the protest and had not been armed.

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Jordanian politicians on November 18 approved an IMF-backed income tax bill after making amendments to a controversial draft law that sparked a week of angry protests in June.

The original bill, which the government approved in June, raised taxes for employees by at least five per cent, and on companies by between 20 and 40 per cent.

These measures were left unchanged in the amended version.

But in a concession, the revised bill raises the 2019 threshold for households to pay income tax to 20,000 Jordanian dinars (Dh103,000) from a previous ceiling of 18,000.

The amended legislation also introduced exemptions of up to 2,000 dinars per family for basic expenses such as education and health, and 1,000 dinars per single person, if receipts are provided.

The demonstrators on Thursday chanted for the release of 24 activists local media said had been detained in smaller scale protests over the last two weeks.

“The government says they have released protesters, but the reality is there are still several activists behind bars,” Hadi, an activist with the Jordan Communist Party, told The National.

With a lack of natural resources to boost state coffers, Jordan relies heavily on foreign aid and has an unemployment rate of 18.5 per cent.

Stability in Jordan is seen as fundamental to the region and after the June protests Amman was offered a $2.5 billion aid package by three Gulf backers including the UAE.

The mass protests in the lead up to the previous iteration of the bill led to the resignation of then prime minister Hani Mulki in June and collapse of the government. King Abdullah then appointed Mr Al Razzaz, a former World Bank economist.

Updated: December 15, 2018 06:12 PM

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