08/21/2007, 00.00
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Higher fuel prices might trigger angry reaction in population

Opposition warns about impact of price hikes. Military junta doubles diesel and gas prices without explanation. The cost of basic staples follows suit, leaving the population in great “hardship.”

Yangon (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Dissatisfaction is growing in Myanmar over last week’s decision by the country’s ruling military junta to increase fuel prices. Opposition leaders warn that it might lead to social unrest.

On August 15 the authorities imposed a surprise 100 per cent hike on diesel fuel and gasoline and 500 per cent on natural gas (especially used in public transit). This has led to a virtual stop in motor traffic.

Gas stations were not forewarned of the coming increase, but were told by the energy department without any reason given.

Bus fares and the cost of staples also went up resulting in unusual street protests.

"Due to the fuel price increase, Buddhist monks, students, civil servants and the public are experiencing further difficulty as commodity prices shot up, causing a great burden on the people. The people are facing hardship and the sentiments of the people are on the brink of exploding,” the National League for Democracy, the party of detained opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, said in a statement.

More than 400 people led by prominent pro-democracy activists staged a rare protest in Rangoon Sunday. The usually repressive authorities watched and videotaped the event, but did not interfere with the protest.  

Gasoline is rationed in Myanmar and each driver has a maximum monthly allocation, but this is first time the military junta imposed a huge price hike.

The government, which holds a monopoly on fuel sales, raised prices of fuel from US$ 1.16 to US$ 2.33 per imperial gallon for diesel. The price of a 65-litre canister of natural gas was raised from 39 US cents to US$ 1.94.

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