Sat, 05 Mar 2005

People feel bite of fuel price hike

The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

People began to feel the bite of the fuel price hikes on Friday on the beaches and in the streets, with some fishermen abandoning their boats in coastal areas, while in the cities passengers fought with bus drivers over increased fares.

In the northern coastal area of West Java, many fishermen left their boats tied to piers after diesel prices rose to between Rp 2,400 and Rp 2,500 a liter in Gebang, Cirebon, higher than the official Rp 2,100 (about 23 US cents) a liter.

About 8,000 fishing families were affected.

"We'll wait until the diesel fuel prices stabilize. Even with the subsidized prices, we found it difficult to keep fishing, and even more so with the high retail prices now," said 24-year-old Karsan from Gebang.

The remote location of the village contributed to the high price of diesel, he said. A gas station for the fishermen reportedly built by former first husband's Taufik Kiemas had gone out of business a while before, he said.

A Dadap fisherman, Kusnadi, said he would have to borrow money before he could finance a fishing trip under the current conditions. Fuel, food and ice would cost him about Rp 100,000, he said.

"Other fishermen are also trying to find more money, either by borrowing it from the cooperative or switching to other jobs like becoming construction workers," Kusnadi said.

In Manado, North Sulawesi, the Indonesian Fishermen's Association (HNSI) said local administrations should charge fishermen less levies, and make fishing permits cheaper and less time-consuming.

"These recommendations should be immediately implemented since the fuel price hikes have caused so much suffering to so many fishermen," HNSI chairman Ferry Kokali said.

Meanwhile, in the streets of Bandarlampung, the price hikes triggered violent a spate of incidents between passengers and public minivan drivers.

On Friday, a construction worker Purnomo erupted into a public bus rage when his normal Rp 1,000 fare was thrown back in his face by a minivan driver's assistant, Rudi, who cursed him and demanded he pay Rp 3,000.

Other passengers managed to separate the two.

"If you ask for fare hike, be logical. If you raise the fare to Rp 3,000, it's too much," Purnomo said.

The fight was one of 15 recorded by public order officials on Friday.

In Pekanbaru, the public transport service returned to normal Friday following strikes by hundreds of minivan drivers during the last couple of days. The drivers agreed to 20 percent fare increase.

In Bandung, a food seller, Uni, complained about the high price of rice. Previously, she bought 50 kg of rice at Rp 140,000, but the price had continued to rise. Now, with the fuel price hikes, she was paying around Rp 195,000.

In Central Java town of Surakarta, some 1,500 factory workers, students and Muslim youth groups demanded on Friday the replacement of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono's economic team.

"The government is too arrogant, raising fuel prices at a time when the people's welfare is at the lowest point," Sebelas Maret University student president Ikhlas Thamrin said.