Opposition groups plan mass protests against Malaysia’s fuel price hike

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia: Opposition groups Thursday 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 Abdullah Ahmad Badawi sought to calm public anger, promising Wednesday 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 Friday from a mosque in downtown Kuala Lumpur to the Petronas Twin Towers, where state-owned oil and gas company Petronas headquarters is based, he said.

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, he added.

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

Kuala Lumpur police chief Muhammad Sabtu Osman said Thursday he may close roads leading to the mosque to halt Friday’s rally and would deploy some 2,000 personnel to the area to ensure security.

The march is illegal as protest organizers didn’t apply for a police permit, he was quoted as saying by national Bernama news agency. Any gathering of more than four people require police permission.

The pump price of gasoline was raised from June 5 by 41 percent to 2.70 ringgit (US$0.87) a liter, or $3.30 a gallon. Diesel prices shot up 63 percent to 2.58 ringgit (US$0.80) per liter.

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.

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