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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 16 December 2018

Jordan’s King Abdullah expected to ask prime minister to resign

Hani Mulki faces being sacked in bid to appease anger over tax increases and corruption

Jordanian police officers secure the office of the prime minister during a demonstration in the capital Amman late on Sunday. AFP/Khalil MAZRAAWI
Jordanian police officers secure the office of the prime minister during a demonstration in the capital Amman late on Sunday. AFP/Khalil MAZRAAWI

Jordan’s King Abdullah was expected on Monday to ask prime minister Hani Mulki to resign in a bid to quell widespread anger over economic policies that has sparked the largest protests in several years, political sources said.

The dismissal of Mr Mulki was demanded in a series of protests against IMF-backed tax increases that have shaken the kingdom. The sources said King Abdullah had ordered Mr Mulki to his palace on Monday.

Mr Mulki, a business-friendly politician, was appointed in May 2016 and given the responsibility of reviving a sluggish economy and business sentiment dented by regional turmoil.

Public anger over IMF-driven government policies has grown since a steep general sales tax increase this year and the abolition of bread subsidies, a staple for the poor.

The increases have caused the PM’s popularity to plummet.

Thousands of Jordanians took to the streets of the capital, Amman, and in main provincial towns on Sunday in an extension of protests that began last Wednesday.

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Jordan seeks ways to defuse anger over tax hike

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The protests widened on Saturday after Mr Mulki refused to scrap a bill increasing personal and corporate taxes, saying it was up to parliament to decide.

Witnesses said demonstrators who converged near the Cabinet office said they would disband only if the government rescinded the tax bill it sent to parliament last month, which critics say would worsen living standards.

“The government has made us penniless,” chanted protesters. "They have left us with no more money in our pockets."

Unions representing tens of thousands of employees in both the public and private sectors have also called for a general strike on Wednesday after their demands for the bill to be scrapped were rejected by the government.

The government says it needs more funds for public services and argues that tax changes reduce social disparities by placing a heavier burden on high earners and leaving lower-paid state workers relatively unscathed

Jordan’s economy has struggled to grow in the past few years in the face of chronic deficits as private foreign capital and aid flows have declined.

Politicians and economists say the tough IMF-imposed fiscal consolidation plan has worsened the plight of poorer Jordanians and squeezed the middle class.

Protesters have also criticised 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 clamp down on official corruption.