Bahrainis protest plan to cut gasoline subsidy
Hundreds of Bahrainis protested against government plans to cut gasoline subsidies.
Hundreds of Bahrainis protested on Friday against government plans to cut gasoline subsidies.
"My country is an oil country," about 600 protesters chanted in the capital Manama. Some carried placards reading "Hands off the basics" in the protest organised by 12 political groups.
The subsidies row is likely to dominate Bahrain's political agenda this year as opposition groups drum up popular support ahead of a parliamentary election expected in November.
Newspaper reports in December that the government was studying ways to end subsidies on gasoline and some food items caused uproar in the small island state, the least wealthy of the energy exporting Gulf states.
Prime Minister Sheikh Khalifa bin Salman al-Khalifa in a letter to parliament this week sought to dampen protests, saying the government planned to increase subsidies targeting needy citizens and was yet to decided on petrol subsidies.
Subsidies are a contentious issue in the Middle East, where mostly authoritarian states provide cheap basic goods to their citizens who have little say in politics and economic issues.
"The government wants to raise fuel prices, but it has never built a public transportation system for us," a protester said.
Bahrain, home to the U.S. Fifth Fleet, has an elected parliament but laws must pass through an upper house appointed by the king. Ultimate power rests with the ruling family.
The small oil producer has run budget surpluses in recent years on high crude prices, but the government has said it plans to phase out subsidies in the long-run to prepare for when oil runs out.
Bahrain spends about 500 million dinars ($1.33 billion) a year on subsidies, mostly on gasoline, power and water. State spending is set at about 2 billion dinars in the 2009 budget.
A projected strong growth in the numbers of cars is likely to drive up the cost of petrol subsidies.
"There is a need to reduce (subsidies), but it has to be done in the right way," Member of Parliament Jasim Ali told Reuters. "The way forward is dialogue, a debate in the country."
Reuters Last Mod: 09 Ocak 2010, 12:38