World News

Jordan's prime minister steps down after mass protests

Posted June 4, 2018 8:28 a.m. EDT

— Jordan's government has stepped down after five days of nationwide protests against new austerity measures.

Prime Minister Hani al-Mulki, who took office last year, met with King Abdullah II before resigning, the Royal Hashemite Court announced Monday. Education minister Omar al-Razzaz has been named interim prime minister, according to government-run newspaper Al Rai.

Demonstrators, spurred by tax hikes and subsidy cuts, had called on the prime minister to step down.

Since a strike began on Wednesday, thousands have poured onto the streets of the capital Amman and several other cities. A sea of protesters has been gathering outside al-Mulki's office at night, after the breaking of the Ramadan fast at dusk.

Images of burning tires and blocked roads teeming with demonstrators could be seen in videos posted to social media.

"We will continue to protest until the sacking of the prime minister," said Zaki Habadin, a lawyer at the protests in Amman on Monday morning.

Last month, the Jordanian government introduced an income tax bill aimed at widening the tax base, increasing tax brackets and penalizing tax evaders.

The tax reform bill, which is driven by the International Monetary Fund, aims to reduce public debt to from 96% of gross domestic product to 77% by 2021.

Members of parliament have vowed to reject it, refusing to vote on the bill. Trade unions rejected the bill and called for the general strike.

On Saturday King Abdullah urged his government "to lead a comprehensive, rational, national dialogue to reach a consensus on the draft income tax law that does not fatigue the public, combats evasion and improves efficiency of tax collection," according to a statement issued by the Royal Hashemite Court.

But Jordanians, buckling under rising unemployment and inflation rates, say they won't bear the brunt of the kingdom's economic struggles.

"It is not a viable option anymore that the pockets of the poor people, of the middle class in Jordan, are being targeted every time the government needs money, regardless the reason. The government has to look at other options," Jordanian MP Kais Zayadin said in an interview with CNN's Becky Anderson.