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June 8, 2008

MALAYSIA/fuel price hike
Govt braces for growing protests

Malaysia's government scrambled Sunday to cushion the blow from a 41 percent fuel price hike, as activists planned more rallies to denounce the decision.

Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi urged angry citizens to understand the reasons behind the move, and said the government would do all it can to alleviate the burden on the poor.

"Each and every one of us has a role and responsibility in facing these trying times. As such, let's face this challenge together with resilience for the greater good of the nation and our future generations," he said.

"The government has held out for as long as possible to protect the people from fuel price increases," the premier said in the speech reported Sunday.

Abdullah was forced to cut fuel subsidies as the bill for this year was set to rocket to $17 billion. Even after Thursday's hike to 2.70 ringgit per litre ($0.84), Malaysia's petrol is still among the cheapest in Asia.

But Salahuddin Ayub, youth leader of the Islamic opposition party PAS, said that as a net oil exporter, Malaysia did not need to implement such a drastic overnight increase.

"We are really very sorry that it has to be this way but it seems the government led by Abdullah has been stubborn, and has not listened to the people," said Salahuddin.

"We will peacefully protest until the government does something to address this issue and review their decision," he added.


Salahuddin said the PAS and the Keadilan party led by opposition figurehead Anwar Ibrahim would mount a rally of 10,000 people next Friday at the capital's iconic Petronas Twin Towers -- named after the state oil company.

"There will be more protests across the nation in the coming weeks. Poor people are devastated as they are faced with this, while still grappling with the rise in prices of basic needs, like rice," he said.



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