“Down with the toll”
KUALA LUMPUR : More than 2,000 Malaysians held an angry protest on Sunday over steep hikes in tolls for highways in and around Kuala Lumpur, demanding the government reverse the increases and reveal agreements with highway operators.
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Chanting “Long live the people!” and “Down with the toll”, protesters mainly from opposition parties, rights groups and trade unions gathered in front of a shopping centre in a southwestern Kuala Lumpur suburb near the office of one highway operator.“We are expressing our discontentment and frustration to the government,” said president of the Malaysian Trades Union Congress, Syed Shahir Syed Mohamud.
“For the past couple of years we have seen an increase in the price of petrol and goods and services … People are very frustrated and very angry,” he told AFP.
Demonstrators initially tried to march to nearby toll booths but more than 200 police armed with a water cannon blocked their way, an AFP photographer said.Malaysia on January 1 introduced steep toll hikes of up to 60 percent for highways, fuelling inflation fears and criticism that the government was beholden to agreements with private highway operators.
Under concession agreements signed between the government and the operators which span three decades, the companies are allowed to regularly raise toll rates and critics say they are making massive profits.
The government said it has paid compensation to companies to fend off toll hikes, but that it could no longer afford to do this.
Works Minister Samy Vellu last month said the government would still be forking out 2.58 billion ringgit (US$734.52 million) in compensation, despite the hikes.
Lawmakers, activists and unionists have slammed the rises, which they say are unjustified after the nation’s steepest-ever fuel price hikes in February last year.
The rise in petrol prices saw inflation hit a six-year high of 4.8 percent in March.
The executive director of rights group Suaram, Yap Swee Seng, said protesters were seething over a lack of transparency in the concession deals.
“We are demanding the government make public the contents of the contracts and set up a commission to look into all these contracts,” Yap said. – AFP/de