Jordan's new PM caught between angry public, international lenders

Photo showing Jordan’s King Abdullah II shakes hands with Prime Minister Omar Al-Razzaz during a swearing-in ceremony of the new cabinet in Amman, Jordan June 14, 2018. (Reuters)
Updated 14 June 2018
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Jordan's new PM caught between angry public, international lenders

AMMAN: Jordan’s new prime minister won’t have much time to deliver on promises to rescind a proposed tax increase and implement economic reforms with more consideration for the country’s struggling poor and middle class.
Union leaders who toppled the previous prime minister last week through widespread protests say they will go back to the streets if his successor, Omar Razzaz, does not deliver.
Razzaz, a former senior World Bank official, faces a tough task: He must defuse public anger at economic policies seen by many as unfair, while introducing reforms that can reduce Jordan’s debt-to-GDP ratio to a level acceptable to international lenders.
He has promised a more inclusive path, but has also tried to lower expectations in recent days in meetings with representatives of unions, political parties and legislators.
“There is no magic stick. There is no painkiller. This is a long path, a difficult path,” he said earlier this week. “But God willing, the target is clear and the leadership is united with the people in achieving it.”

Jordan’s new government was sworn in on Thursday, after mass protests against price rises and austerity measures forced the prime minister’s resignation.
The new administration led by Harvard-trained economist Omar Al-Razzaz has already withdrawn the contested tax law which brought thousands of Jordanians to the streets, officials said.
The government shake-up has seen half the cabinet’s 28 ministers replaced, with Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi and Interior Minister Samir Al-Mabidin among those keeping their jobs.
The defense portfolio goes to Razzaz, while new ministers were appointed in the areas including finance, planning, international cooperation and regional development.
Since being asked to form a government by King Abdullah II on June 4, Razzaz said he had been engaged in talks with different parties to “reach a fair taxation system for everyone.”
Cash-strapped Jordan relies heavily on foreign donors and in 2016 secured a $723-million loan from the International Monetary Fund.
But austerity measures tied to the loan have seen prices of basic necessities rise across the kingdom.
Jordanians protested in Amman and other cities over a proposed tax hike, with the scale of demonstrations prompting the resignation of prime minister Hani Mulki.
The public rallies were followed by a crisis meeting with Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait, concluding on Sunday with Jordan’s neighbors pledging $2.5 billion in aid.
The donors’ rival Qatar followed up with an offer of $500,000 in investment and promised to create 10,000 jobs for Jordanians.


Renewed US-led airstrikes pound Daesh holdouts

Updated 23 March 2019
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Renewed US-led airstrikes pound Daesh holdouts

  • According to SDF spokesman Kino Gabriel, hundreds of Daesh fighters, including some women, still remain on the outskirts of the encampment
SOUSA, SYRIA: US-led warplanes bombed the north bank of the Euphrates River in eastern Syria on Friday to flush out holdout militants from the last sliver of their crumbling “caliphate.”
Friday’s bombardment ended two days of relative calm on the front line in the remote village of Baghouz near the Iraqi border.
The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) had paused its advance while it combed a makeshift militant encampment, which it overran on Tuesday.
An SDF official said warplanes of the US-led coalition resumed strikes on suspected militant positions before dawn on Friday.
Top SDF commander Jia Furat said his forces were engaging with the Daesh fighters on several fronts while the coalition warplanes provided air support.
The coalition said the “operation to complete the liberation of Baghouz is ongoing.”
“It remains a hard fight, and Daesh is showing that they intend to keep fighting for as long as possible,” it said. The SDF launched what it called its “final assault” against the rebels’ last redoubt in the village of Baghouz on Feb. 9.
Finally on Tuesday, they cornered diehard fighters into a few acres of farmland along the Euphrates River, after forcing them out of their rag-tag encampment of tents and battered vehicles.
The six-month-old operation to wipe out the last vestige of Daesh’s once-sprawling proto-state is close to reaching its inevitable outcome, but the SDF has said a declaration of victory will be made only after they have completed flushing out the last tunnels and hideouts.
According to SDF spokesman Kino Gabriel, hundreds of Daesh fighters, including some women, still remain on the outskirts of the encampment. They are hiding along the bank of the Euphrates River as well as at the base of a hill overlooking Baghouz, he told AFP.
“In around one or two days, we will conclude military operations if there are no surprise developments,” he said.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Daesh holdouts were hiding in underground tunnels and caves in Baghouz.
SDF official Jiaker Amed said several militants want to surrender but are being prevented from doing so by other fighters.
“We are trying our best to wrap up the operation without fighting, but some of them are refusing to surrender,” he said.
More than 66,000 people, mostly civilians, have quit the last Daesh redoubt since Jan. 9, according to the SDF.
They comprise 5,000 militants and 24,000 of their relatives as well as 37,000 other civilians.
The thousands who have streamed out have been housed in cramped camps and prisons run by Kurdish forces further north.
On Wednesday night, around 2,000 women and children from Baghouz arrived at the largest camp, Al-Hol, which is struggling to cope with the influx of tens of thousands of people, many in poor health.
Since December, at least 138 people, mostly children, have died en route to Al-Hol or shortly after arrival, according to the International Rescue Committee.
Daesh declared a “caliphate” in June 2014 after seizing a vast swathe of territory larger than Britain straddling Iraq and Syria.
The loss of the Baghouz enclave would signal the demise of the “caliphate” in Syria, after its defeat in Iraq in 2017.
But Daesh has already begun its transformation into a guerilla organization, and still carries out deadly hit-and-run attacks from desert or mountain hideouts.
In a video released on Daesh’s social media channels on Thursday, militants vowed to continue to carry out attacks.
“To those who think our caliphate has ended, we say not only has it not ended, but it is here to stay,” said one fighter.
He urged Daesh supporters to conduct attacks in the West against the enemies of the “caliphate.”
The war in Syria has killed more than 370,000 people and displaced millions since it erupted following the repression of anti-regime protests in 2011.