Indonesian police brace for fuel price hikes

Indonesia deployed 5,000 security forces across the capital Wednesday as it braced for protests against huge increases in fuel prices that for decades have been among the world's lowest.

Lawmakers approved a plan late Tuesday to slash fuel subsidies that have ballooned this year in line with soaring global oil prices, threatening to blow the cash-strapped government's budget.

Fuel price increases are sensitive in Indonesia, the world's fourth most populous nation with 220 million people, and one of the poorest.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has yet to formally announce the size of the increases, but ministers have said they expect the cost of some fuel products to jump by 60 percent beginning Saturday.

There have already been scattered protests, with hundreds gathering Wednesday in Jakarta and at least 10 other cities nationwide, media reports said, and the government warned that discontent could swell in coming days.

Jakarta Governor Sutiyoso said 5,030 soldiers and police had been deployed across the capital to safeguard the presidential palace, state-owned oil depots and other strategic locations.

"We are expecting the worst," he said, while urging demonstrators to remain peaceful.

Riots triggered by a 1998 fuel price hike hastened the collapse of former President Suharto's dictatorship.

As result, the government is now spending more than 60 percent of its budget on fuel subsidies. It plans to give monthly payments of US$10 (€6) directly to about 15 million poor families to cushion the blow from the hikes, which will also push up the price of food and other basic necessities, the AP reports.

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