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2 Asian nations protest rise in fuel prices

Indians blocked trains and roads for a second day. Malaysians called for a major rally next month.

MUMBAI, India - Government decisions to increase fuel prices have led to protests in two Asian countries.

Angry consumers blocked rail tracks and roads and shut down businesses in parts of India for a second day yesterday to oppose a government move to raise fuel prices.

In Malaysia, an opposition party held small protests Thursday - and a coalition of activists called for a major demonstration in the capital, Kuala Lumpur, next month - to denounce the fuel price rises as excessive and a burden for the poor after the government ended heavy fuel subsidies earlier this week.

The Malaysian government defended its decision.

Indian police detained 20 activists after they disrupted train services in a Mumbai suburb, said Ashok Singh, a railway spokesman.

India's federal and state governments scrambled to contain the protests there. The federal petroleum minister canceled a trip to Japan for the G-8 summit, the Press Trust of India reported.

Several states lowered local sales taxes to lessen the impact of the rise in prices of gasoline, diesel and cooking gas.

On Wednesday, India's government increased gasoline prices by about 13 cents and diesel prices 8 cents per liter - about a fourth of a gallon - to partially offset soaring international oil prices.

The price of cooking gas went up by about $1.25 per 31-pound cylinder.

About 300 million of India's 1.1 billion people live on less than a dollar a day. Millions of others live on the state-set minimum daily wage of $1.60 and cannot afford cooking gas at all.

Higher fuel and cooking-gas prices have a significant impact on the household budgets of middle-class families with incomes typically of $119 to $238 a month.

Yesterday, police used water cannons to disperse demonstrators when the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party held a protest in India's capital, New Delhi.

Worst hit was West Bengal state in eastern India, where schools and businesses were closed and trains were delayed or canceled for a second day, said Raj Kanojia, a police inspector-general.

Protests also closed several parts of the southern state of Andhra Pradesh, while shops and businesses in several areas of the state capital, Hyderabad, remained shut.

In Malaysia, Domestic Trade Minister Shahrir Samad defended the end of subsidies. "It's the first time ever we can come to grips with the subsidy system," Shahrir told reporters.

Opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim disagreed with the government's decision.

"To decide summarily, without regard to the plight of the vast majority, particularly the poor and the marginalized, to me, is unconscionable," he said while speaking at a forum in the Philippines.

The pump price of gasoline in Malaysia rose Thursday by 41 percent to 87 cents a liter, or nearly $3.50 a gallon. Diesel prices shot up 63 percent to 80 cents per liter.