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Friday, June 13, 2008

Opposition Plan For Mass Fuel Hike Protests

KUALA LUMPUR, June 12 - Opposition groups today vowed to push ahead with plans for mass protests against a sharp 41 percent hike in gasoline prices, despite the government's pledge not to further raise prices this year.

The price hike last week has sparked sporadic protests nationwide. Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi sought to calm public anger, promising yesterday to keep prices fixed at the current level for the rest of the year.

Shamsul Iskandar Akin, a leader of the GERAMM youth coalition against oil price hike, dismissed Abdullah's pledge and said the hike has led prices to rise across the board and caused further hardship for the poor.

Malaysia as a net oil exporter, benefits from rising global oil prices and people are questioning why profits from national oil firm Petronas aren't used as subsidies, he said.

"The government's action (to raise prices drastically) is crazy. It shows their failure in managing the economy," he told reporters. "We will continue with peaceful protests to demand the government reverse its decision. A march is planned tomorrow from a mosque in downtown Kuala Lumpur to the Petronas Twin Towers, where Petronas headquarters is based."

Police, meanwhile, have said they may have to close the road leading to the Kampung Baru mosque where protestors are scheduled to gather after Friday prayers tomorrow.

Kuala Lumpur police chief Datuk Wira Muhammad Sabtu Osman said between 1,500 and 2,000 members of the security forces from the police, Rela and Federal Reserve Unit would be placed on alert to stop the procession.

"Personnel from the Dang Wangi and Sentul district police stations will also maintain security in the area. We will close several roads leading to the (mosque) area if necessary," he said.

Besides the march, GERAMM and PROTES, another anti-inflation coalition of Opposition parties and non-governmental groups, hope to also gather a million people for the largest mass demonstration in Kuala Lumpur next month, Shamsul said.

In addition, GERAMM has launched an online petition to gather a million signatures to protest the price hike, he told reporters.

The pump price of gasoline was raised from June 5 by 41 percent to RM2.70 a litre. Diesel prices shot up 63 percent to RM2.58 per litre.

Like other Asian nations, Malaysia says fuel subsidies are no longer tenable amid rising world oil prices. In addition to the fuel price hike, the government also raised electricity tariffs from July.

The energy price hike is a politically risky move for Abdullah, who is fighting for his political survival after his ruling coalition's shock election losses in March.

Despite the increase, the government says Malaysia's gasoline prices remain lower than other Asian countries such as Singapore, Thailand and India.

Shamsul said the comparison was unfair as those were non-oil producing nations. In contrast, gasoline prices in Indonesia are about a third cheaper than Malaysia, he said. - AP, Bernama

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