Government Says It Will Clamp Down On Today's Fuel Hike Protest
Protests have so far been small and scattered, but on Friday after Muslim prayers, the opposition plans to draw 20,000 people in a march from a mosque in a poor part of Kuala Lumpur to the iconic Petronas towers in the city centre to underline anger against the state energy giant.
Police have urged people not to join the rally, termed illegal because no permit has been issued, and warned they would arrest protest leaders.
"Demonstrations and illegal assemblies only disrupt public order and cause traffic chaos," the pro-government New Straits Times quoted city police chief Muhammad Sabtu Osman as saying. We are not sure how many protesters will turn up and which routes they will take. But we are taking all precautionary measures," a police spokesman told Reuters.
There are tight restrictions on public gatherings in Malaysia, but the opposition has said it will go ahead anyway.
"The people are angry. They say the fuel price is very high so they want to say something," said Safarizal Saleh, a leader of the youth wing of the Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS), the main Islamist party and one of the organisers of the rally.
Petrol prices were raised by 41 percent and diesel 63 percent in line with a global surge in oil prices, a measure that would drive inflation to a 10-year high of 4.2 percent in 2008.
The government says it will save 13.7 billion ringgit ($4.2 billion) as part of a broad overhaul of its heavily subsided energy pricing system.
Trying to assuage public anger, Prime Minister Ahmad Abdullah Badawi has said there will not be any more fuel increases this year and announced a cut in the allowances of ministers as part of measures to cut government costs.
Despite the rises, pump prices for petrol in Malaysia are still among the cheapest in Asia.
But critics led by former deputy prime minister Anwar Ibrahim have rejected the measures as too little and questioned why Malaysia, the largest net oil exporter in Asia, should face the fuel hike when the country earns 250 million ringgit ($76.76 million) a year in revenue for every $1 rise in crude prices.
"Although Petronas is estimated to have earned RM2trillion over the last 34 years ... its accounts are not accessible to (the) public nor by the people's elected representative in Parliament," said Waytha Moorthy, chairman of HINDRAF, a group campaigning for the rights of ethnic Indians which is supporting the fuel protests.
Petronas posted a record profit of $12.9 billion for the year ended March 31 2007, helped by a boom in crude oil prices. The state oil firm is expected to release its 2008 earnings at the end of June.
***** Petronas' earnings over the years have been siphoned off by various government 'policies' and we can forget about getting even an estimate of where it all ended up. When the government can't even give us a proper accounting of the KL Commonwealth Games expenses do you think they'll budge on the Petronas billions?