Jordanians Protest Fuel-Subsidy Cut, Demand King’s Ouster

Thousands of Jordanians rallied around the country for a third day against the government’s decision to cut subsidies on fuel, with some demanding the ouster of King Abdullah II.

Security forces in Amman prevented protesters from marching to the royal court from Al Husseini mosque after the Friday sermon. While the demonstration broke up, protesters announced plans to continue the rally tonight outside the Ministry of Interior at the Dakhlia circle. Police barricaded the circle and are refusing entry to the area.

“The reason behind these protests is not to demonstrate, but to vandalize, and we are against vandalism,” Prime Minister Abdullah Ensour said in an interview today on Al Arabiya television. “Seventy-three percent of Jordanian citizens including government employees, armed forces, retirees, companies and anyone who is on social security will receive next Tuesday financial support from the government in dinars.”

Jordan, one of the smallest economies in the Middle East, has largely escaped the Arab Spring uprisings that have toppled the leaders of Egypt, Libya and Tunisia. King Abdullah, 50, has ruled since 1999 and is an important U.S. ally.

No injuries or violent acts were reported today. One person was killed and at least 17 civilians and 54 policemen were injured, seven of them critically, in the first two days of the unrest. The Muslim Brotherhood, the country’s largest opposition group, called on people to take to the streets today and the group’s chief, Hammam Saeed, urged King Abdullah to restore the subsidies, saying Jordanians can’t shoulder the extra burden.

Rallying Cry

Some protesters today called for the king and Ensour to quit, chanting “Down with corrupt government,” “Down with Ensour” and “Down with the regime” -- the rallying cry of the Arab Spring uprisings.

The Obama administration recognizes the difficult situation of Jordan and respects the rights of people to protest peacefully, the state-run Petra news agency reported, citing Mark Toner, deputy State Department spokesman. The “reformatory road-map King Abdullah has provided responds to” Jordanians’ financial and political concerns and their aspirations, Toner said, according to Petra.

Lack of Money

Jordan imports almost all its fuel and relies on foreign aid and investment to cover shortfalls. Grants from abroad plunged by 98 percent to 25.8 million dinars ($36.4 million) in the first nine months of 2012 in the absence of donations from Arab states, the government said this month.

The state is so short of money that it can’t pay for the cargo carried by two fuel ships docked in the port of Aqaba, Ensour said on Nov. 13.

Repeated bomb attacks against a gas export pipeline in Egypt have cost Jordan about $4 billion, increasing the nation’s debt and budget deficit, King Abdullah said on Oct. 23. Saudi Arabia’s support last year “barely covered the additional deficit resulting from the disruption in Egyptian gas supply in 2011,” Abdullah said.

Until 2003, Jordan used to receive oil from Iraq at subsidized prices of less than $30 a barrel, according to the king. Today, Jordan buys crude at more than $100 a barrel, he said.

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