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Anwar Ibrahim says fuel price hike 'unconscionable'

The International Herald Tribune: MANILA, Philippines: Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim said his government's decision to sharply raise fuel prices was "unconscionable."

In a move to end decades of heavy subsidies that have kept Malaysian fuel prices among Southeast Asia's lowest, the Malaysian government recently jacked up the pump price of gasoline by 41 percent to 2.70 ringgit (US$0.87) a liter, or 10.23 ringgit (US$3.30) a gallon.

Diesel prices shot up 63 percent to 2.58 ringgit (US$0.80) per liter.

Speaking at a forum in Manila on Friday, Anwar noted that Malaysia is a net exporter of petroleum, which annually generates "huge resources and profit."

"To decide summarily, without regard to the plight of the vast majority, particularly the poor and the marginalized, to me, is unconscionable," he said.

In Kuala Lumpur, Domestic Trade Minister Shahrir Samad said Friday that the government will not revise the price increases despite opposition protests, but assured there would not be further hikes anytime soon.

Like some other Asian countries, Malaysia had faced a spiraling fuel subsidy bill that could have been more than 56 billion ringgit (US$17 billion) this year due to rising world oil prices.

Anwar, a former deputy prime minister and finance minister who now leads an opposition coalition, said, "We cannot opt for any other thing except for market economy ... but this cannot be done without regard to the issues of good governance and accountability."

Anwar was fired by then-Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad in 1998 in a power struggle. He was expelled from the ruling party and convicted of sodomy and corruption, charges he says were politically motivated.

He was released from prison in 2004 after the sodomy conviction was overturned, but the corruption conviction barred him from holding political office until April 15, 2008.

He was invited to Manila by former Philippine President Joseph Estrada, whom he considered a loyal friend and "part of my family."

Anwar and his wife, Wan Azizah, had dinner late Friday at Estrada's suburban San Juan residence with former President Corazon Aquino.

Estrada was ousted amid massive anti-corruption protests in 2001 in what he says was a conspiracy of the elite, some military officers and Roman Catholic church leaders.

He was convicted of plunder last year and sentenced to life in prison but was pardoned a month later by President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.



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