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Burmese Government Announces Huge Increase in Fuel Prices

Burma's military government has announced a more than eight-fold increase in the price of fuel, reflecting higher global oil prices as well as domestic shortages. The higher prices are expected to have a major impact on Burma's already fragile economy.

Burma's population learned of the huge increase in fuel charges from notices posted at gasoline pumps. The increases are to go into effect Thursday.

Diplomats told VOA that Burma's military government held a cabinet meeting earlier in the day to discuss the price increases, but no mention of them was made in the state-run news media.

The price hikes will see gasoline rise from less than four cents to more than 30 cents per liter. The increase is expected to have a major impact on disposable income, in a country where some government workers earn as little as $10 a month.

Debbie Stothardt, a spokesperson for the human rights organization, Alternative ASEAN Network on Burma, said the increases will hit ordinary citizens hard. "This is going to further eat into the ability of ordinary people to buy food to feed themselves, let alone have fuel to travel around," she said.

Diplomats said higher prices and supply shortages also extend to diesel fuel, whose price has been raised by more than 13 times. Many Burmese use diesel to fuel emergency generators due to frequent power blackouts.

Owners of registered cars in the major cities had been allowed to purchase eight liters of fuel a day from government-run gasoline stations. Some civil servants have also been able to buy fuel above the regular allocation. Analysts predict the price increases will further boost black-market activity in fuels.

There has not yet been any public reaction to the price increases, but few analysts expect public demonstrations, given the military's tight control over society.

But diplomats said there was some prospect of a run on consumer goods, as people attempt to beat the higher prices on other items that the fuel price increases will almost inevitably create.

There have already been price increases on many items in recent months, along with reports that the government was facing a budget crisis due to its continued subsidization of fuel prices.