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Jun 8, 2008

Malaysians turn to Internet to fight fuel hike

reuters - Malaysians have turned to the Internet to vent their anger at one of the biggest hikes in fuel prices, and some are using it to rally support against the measure in a country with tight restrictions on street protests.

Much of the rage was directed against Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, already fighting for political survival since leading his ruling coalition to its worst election showing in March.

"We used to think you were nice. Now you are just nasty, plain nasty," read a post from someone calling himself a "hungry Malaysian" on rockybru.blogspot.co, arguing there was going to be less food on the table for millions of poor people.

A post on apanama blog said "it was a matter of time before Abdullah was given the proverbial pink slip in UMNO" or the United Malays National Organization.

Some have taken the battle into the government's camp. A hacker tried to deface the official website of the prime minister's office, the pro-government New Straits Times said.

The hacker left a drawing of a skull with a sword through its neck, blaming the prime minister for the fuel rise, the newspaper said. There was a notice later put up on the website www.pmo.gov.my saying it had been temporarily shut down for maintenance, it said.

The government raised petrol prices this week by 41 percent and diesel by 63 percent, in line with a global surge in oil prices. It said the measure would save 13.7 billion ringgit ($4.23 billion) as part of a broad overhaul of its energy system.

But Malaysians are questioning why they have to face a steep rise in prices when the country, Asia's largest net oil exporter, earns 250 million ringgit ($76.76 million) a year in revenue for every $1 rise in crude prices.

"Simple logic: As an exporter of fuel, how can fuel price increase hurt us? Why, why, why?" read one comment on rockybru.

Unlike in neighboring Indonesia, India and countries in Europe where there have been mass protests, attempts to organize mass demonstrations have met with limited success in Malaysia.

Protests have been scattered and small, but the opposition has called its biggest one yet on July 12, when it plans to bring 100,000 to the capital's centre.

"Support is there. I have received so many SMSs and calls about this issue," Salahuddin Ayub, leader of the youth wing of the Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS), the main Islamist party told reporters on Saturday. Some 10,000 people are expected to attend a protest next Friday, he said.

The government has said it will act against people taking part in illegal demonstrations, the pro-government Star newspaper reported, quoting Home Minister Seri Syed Hamid.

Under the rules, organizers have to obtain a permit from the authorities before holding any assembly of people.


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