Jordan King Orders Price Cuts 'to Protect Poor'

Jordan's government is preparing to take urgent steps to reduce prices of commodities amid rising popular discontent around the country, a senior official said on Tuesday.

"King Abdullah II has instructed Prime Minister Samir Rifai to take immediate and effective measures to mitigate the impact of rising prices of commodities on citizens," the official told Agence France Presse, speaking on condition of anonymity.

"The king has called for protecting poor and middle-class citizens, giving them the means to ensure their basic needs," he added without elaborating.

"The king said basic commodities should be sold to citizens at the lowest possible prices."

The official said the armed forces, which sell 85 different commodities to its members as well as civilians through its cooperative stores at low prices, "have been instructed by the king not to raise prices, particularly sugar and rice."

The price of sugar doubled on commodities exchanges in 2010, while rice prices have also been highly volatile.

Such measures come amid growing unemployment and as inflation last month reached 6.1 percent, according to official figures.

Mohammad Sneid, a popular trade unionist representing government workers paid on a daily basis, has called for a nationwide protest on Friday after midday prayers.

The powerful Islamist opposition "is still studying the situation and has not decided whether to take part in the protest or not," Zaki Bani Rsheid, one of the leaders of Islamic Action Front (IAF), told AFP.

The king has also asked the government to "act quickly and launch projects that generate income and create job opportunities," said the senior official.

Jordan in May 2010 launched a 10-billion-dollar (7.734 billion euro) development project in the Red Sea port of Aqaba, the country's largest ever property and tourism venture, the official Petra news agency reported.

However, cash-strapped Jordan expects its 2011 budget deficit to come in at 1.5 billion dollars, or five percent of gross domestic product, Rifai said in remarks published in December 2010.

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