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June 12, 2008

Soaring fuel prices trigger street protests

Protests against the soaring fuel price hikes continued to hit Asean, particularly in Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia.

On Wednesday, thousands of Thai truck drivers staged a half-day strike and transport groups said they were ready to block roads into the capital, Bangkok, next week.

"If the government doesn't meet our demands by June 17, we will mobilise our trucks in Bangkok," Thongyu Khongkan, secretary-general of the Land Transport Federation of Thailand, which has 400,000 trucks under its banner, said.

Demands include a discount of 3-baht ($0.09) per litre of diesel for six months, as well as cheap loans to convert engines to compressed natural gas, he said.

Thailand’s national air carrier, Thai Airways International, raised its fuel surcharges by up to 100 percent on Wednesday due to the rising cost of jet fuel.

The pressure has also been felt by the Indonesian government, which raised fuel prices by an average of nearly 30 percent last month to try to cut its fuel subsidy bill.

Energy Minister Purnomo Yusgiantoro said the government may drop a plan to introduce rationing of subsidised gasoline for motorcycles and public transport because the scheme is too difficult and expensive to administer.

"There are various reasons, including the cost, which is very expensive," he said.

On the same day, Malaysian government ruled out any more increases in fuel prices this year as it tried to try to contain growing public anger and pressure over soaring fuel costs.

Malaysia followed India, Indonesia, Taiwan and Sri Lanka by raising pump prices last week, provoking a public outcry and protests.

"The government feels that the people are still trying to adjust to the high oil price situation," Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi said in a statement. "As such, the cabinet decided that there will be no further increase in petrol and diesel prices this year."

Malaysia is Asia's largest net oil exporter, earning 250 million ringgit ($76.76 million) a year in revenue for every $1 rise in crude prices. Petrol prices were increased by 41 percent and diesel 63 percent last week.

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