Jordan's King Abdullah appointed Omar al-Razzaz after the resignation of Hani Mulki as prime minister in the wake of ongoing anti-austerity protests. King Abdullah earlier said the nation is "at a crossroads."

A demonstrator gestures toward Jordanian anti-riot police and security forces during a protest in the capital Amman, June 4, 2018.
A demonstrator gestures toward Jordanian anti-riot police and security forces during a protest in the capital Amman, June 4, 2018. (AFP)

Jordan's King Abdullah tasked a former World Bank economist on Tuesday with forming a new government and called for broad talks on a planned income tax law that has provoked the country's biggest protests in years.

The king appointed Harvard-educated Omar al Razzaz after accepting Hani Mulki's resignation as prime minister, attempting to defuse public anger over IMF-driven reforms.

Razzaz had previously held senior positions in the World Bank and is considered a reformer.

The move came after anti-government protests continued on Tuesday despite Mulki's resignation. Mulki had led the push for the austerity measures.

Several thousand Jordanians marched toward the office of outgoing Prime Minister Hani Mulki overnight and into early Tuesday, demanding the government scrap proposed tax increases which critics say mostly target the poor and the middle class.

Riot police scuffled with some of the marchers, trying to keep them away from the building, but the fifth street protest in as many days was largely peaceful.

Mulki resigned as Jordan's King Abdullah II tries to defuse the biggest protests in the kingdom in several years.

The monarch, who has the ultimate say on policy decisions, promised change, but gave no specifics on possible reforms.

Protest organisers have said they seek real change, including a rescinding of the tax bill, and that personnel changes at the top are irrelevant without fundamental reforms.

In the march, which started late Monday, some of the protesters chanted, "No to Mulki, No to Razzaz."

Jordan at a crossroads

King Abdullah also said on Tuesday that the country is "at a crossroads."

The king blamed the country's economic woes on regional instability, the burden of hosting hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees and a lack of international support.

"Jordan today stands at a crossroads: either it can come out of the crisis and provide a dignified life to our citizens, or, God forbid, it can go into the unknown — but we have to know where we are going," he told a group of journalists late Monday, according to the official Petra agency.

More strikes?

Ahead of Razzaz's appointment on Tuesday, an umbrella organisation for more than a dozen unions and professional organisations said it would go ahead with a planned one-day strike on Wednesday, while several other unions said they would suspend their protests to give the country a chance to solve its problems after the resignation of Mulki.

Jordan's government is under pressure from the International Monetary Fund to carry out economic reforms and austerity measures to rein in growing public debt.

The kingdom has experienced an economic downturn in part because of prolonged conflict in neighbouring Syria and Iraq, and a large influx of refugees several years ago. 

The official unemployment rate has risen above 18 percent, and it's believed to be double that among young Jordanians.

Omar al Razzaz

* Harvard-educated economist who served with the World Bank in both Washington and the region and is familiar with the economic challenges that faces Middle East countries blighted by high debt and bloated bureaucracies such as Jordan.

* In his last post as education minister, Razzaz oversaw plans to overhaul the country's traditional state education system, drawing on US and Western donor aid.

* He has been an opponent of free market reforms that hurt the poor, and is expected to take a gradual approach to policy changes. Officials say his appointment nevertheless sends a positive message to foreign donors that Jordan will continue with a tough three-year IMF plan of reforms to reduce spiralling public debt.

* Officials who have worked with Razzaz say he has proven to be a capable administrator in a string of government posts in recent years where he worked also on reforming the state pension fund, and he hails from outside the country's traditional political class.

* Razzaz was born in 1960.

Omar al Razzaz is seen in Amman, Jordan April 10, 2018.
Omar al Razzaz is seen in Amman, Jordan April 10, 2018. (Reuters)
Source: AP