Jordan's new Prime Minister Omar al-Razzaz

AMMAN (Reuters) - Jordan’s King Abdullah appointed Omar al-Razzaz to form a new government after the resignation of prime minister Hani Mulki on Monday, a ministerial source said. The move was apparently aimed at defusing big protests over tax hikes that are part of an IMF-backed economic reform program.

* Razzaz is a 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 generous U.S. 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 spiraling 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.

Reporting by Suleiman Al-Khalidi, Editing by William Maclean