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Jordan unions stage strike against government over tax hikes

Muslim Times(Web Desk) – Jordanian unions representing tens of thousands of employees in the public and private sectors have staged a general strike against the government’s economic policies and tax hikes.

Shops and pharmacies as well as other businesses were shut in the capital Amman on Wednesday. Closed shops hung signs that read, “I’m taking part in the strike.”

The unions of doctors, engineers and lawyers were the main ones taking part in the walkout.

Monther Howarat, a doctor protesting outside King Hussein Cancer Center, said, “This gathering today, and this strike that includes most of the professional unions, is to assert our demands and place pressure to achieve them.”

Hundreds of men and women also converged outside the headquarters of the Professional Unions Association.

Last week, more than 30 unions held mass rallies in Amman and other cities.

King Abdullah has appointed Omar al-Razzaz to form a new government after Hani Mulki resigned as prime minister in a bid to defuse public anger over price hikes. Razzaz, a former World Bank economist, was education minister in the outgoing government.

The embattled prime minister submitted resignation after the largest anti-government demonstrations in Jordan since 2011.

The ongoing protests widened in recent days after Mulki refused to scrap a bill increasing personal and corporate taxes.

“We don’t want a change of names, we want a change in policy,” one banner read. “Bring back bread subsidies,” a protester said at a late night protest.

Some said they would wait to see if the steps would stop price hikes, which they said hit the poor.

“I personally feel optimistic and we started to feel the beginning of change,” Murad Yaghan, another protester told media outlets as people around him chanted against the government’s economic policies. “We will continue public pressure.”

The king says the new government must launch a dialogue over a planned income tax law. He also said political parties, unions and civil society groups must take part in the talks.

Public resentment has been building since bread subsidies were ended and the general sales tax hiked steeply earlier this year under a plan devised by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to cut Jordan’s $37 billion debt.

The government says it needs more funds for public services and argues that the tax changes reduce social disparities by placing a heavier burden on high earners. Opponents say a tough IMF-imposed fiscal consolidation plan has worsened the plight of poorer Jordanians and squeezed the middle class.

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.

Jordan has a public debt of some $35 billion, equivalent to around 90 percent of its gross domestic product.

The price hike and steep tax increases, which the government of Mulki introduced earlier in the year as mandated by the IMF, are meant to cut into the debt.

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