Jordanians protest against soaring food prices

More than 5,000 people staged protests across Jordan in “a day of rage” to protest against escalating food prices and unemployment on the same day as, in another part of the Arab world, Tunisia’s president fled the north African state after weeks of violent demonstrations.

Amman, Jordan’s capital is 1,500 miles (2,500km) from Tunis, but the reason for the protesters’ anger was the same, and so too were the calls for the leader to resign.

Jordanian University students and Ba’athist party supporters also held rallies in Irbid, Karak, Salt and Maan, demanding that the prime minister, Samir Rifai, step down.

Official reports coming out of the country suggest that police successfully contained the demonstrators by forming circles around them, and no arrests were made.

Jordan slashed prices and taxes on some foods and fuels on the orders of King Abdullah II this week to help ease the burden on the poor.

The government has already allocated £141m in the 2011 budget to subsidise bread, on which many poor in the country of 7 million people depend, officials said.

The money will also be used to reduce the price of fuel as well as creating jobs, but protesters said that it was insufficient to tackle poverty caused by inflation.

Jordanian blog Ammon news reported that at the protest, called “the day of rage”, people chanted: “United class, united government has sucked your blood,” and waving posters with bread attached.

“We are protesting the policies of the government, high prices and repeated taxation that made the Jordanian people revolt,” Tawfiq al-Batoush, a former head of Karak municipality, told Reuters.

The protests in Jordan, and indeed in Tunisia and Algeria, came after the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), published figures showing that prices are at their highest since the 2008 food crisis. The global average price of food – including cereals, cooking oil, meat and dairy products – was 25% higher in December 2010 than in December 2009.

And last week, petrol passed the $90-a-barrel-mark.

Jordan’s budget deficit hit a record $2bn in 2009, 9% of GDP, as public finances came under strain after the global downturn.

Ammon added that the Muslim Brotherhood and the country’s 14 trade unions say they will hold a sit-down protest outside parliament on Sunday to “denounce government economic policies”.

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