June 2, 2018 / 1:55 PM / 17 days ago

Jordan unions press on demands to scrap tax law after protests

* Protesters want prime minister sacked

* Government says needs to fund for public services

AMMAN, June 2 (Reuters) - Jordanian unions and a majority of lawmakers said on Saturday they would press on with demands for the government to scrap a IMF-backed tax bill that triggered protests against price hikes.

Several thousand Jordanians staged vigils on two successive nights outside the cabinet office chanting anti-government slogans and urging King Abdullah to sack the prime minister.

Jordanians began protesting on Wednesday evening in response to a call by unions for demonstrations against the tax rises demanded by the International Monetary Fund.

The tax proposals are part of IMF-driven austerity measures that have included hikes in the general sales tax this year and the abolition of subsidies on bread, a staple of the poor.

The IMF measures are part of a three-year plan to generate revenue that aims to cut the Arab nation’s $37 billion debt, that is equivalent to 95 percent of gross domestic product.

The government says it needs the funds to finance public services and says tax reforms reduce social disparities by placing a heavier burden on high earners and have left lower paid state workers relatively unscathed.

Protesters say the measures will hurt the poor and accuse politicians of squandering public funds and corruption.

Parliament speaker Atef Tarawneh said more than 80 deputies, a majority of the 130-member assembly, wanted the government to withdraw a tax bill that has been sent to lawmakers for approval.

“We won’t submit to the dictates of the IMF,” Tarawneh said after meeting Prime Minister Hani Mulki, local media reported.

Unions representing state and private sector employees said the government had caved in to IMF demands and was widening the gap between rich and poor in the nation of 8 million people that hosts hundreds of thousands of refugees from Syria’s conflict.

The Professional Unions Association threatened strikes before they are due to hold a meeting with Mulki on Saturday, activists said.

“We will escalate if there is no response to our demands,” said Ali al Abous, the head of the union’s council.

Jordan’s economy has struggled to grow under chronic deficits as private foreign capital and aid flows have slipped

There have been scattered protests in provincial towns, prompting police in some places to use teargas. In Maan, a town in the south, protesters burnt tyres to block highways and some scuffled with police, witnesses said.

Jordan also witnessed civil unrest and protests in the capital and some towns after previous IMF-driven moves cut subsidies and hike fuel prices.

Reporting by Suleiman Al-Khalidi Editing by Edmund Blair

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