KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) - Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, facing criticism over a sharp fuel price hike, ordered members of the ruling party on Sunday to explain the move to the people.
Abdullah said many people did not understand the reasons for the hike, with some thinking that the government had ceased providing fuel subsidies.
"The opposition has taken advantage of the situation to criticize the government," Abdullah was quoted as saying by the national news agency, Bernama.
Last week, the government raised the retail prices of gasoline, diesel and liquefied petroleum gas by as much as 23 percent, but pledged not to raise them any further this year.
Despite the increases, fuel prices in Malaysia -- a net oil exporter -- are still among the lowest in Southeast Asia because of government subsidies.
Opposition parties and private policy groups have said the increases will widen the gap between rich and poor.
They also questioned why the government did not use profits from the national oil company Petronas, which benefited from higher global oil prices, as subsidize fuel for the poor.
Abdullah said fuel prices were raised because of higher global oil prices, and also to encourage people to consume less fuel, Bernama reported.
"If the fuel is cheap, the people will not be thrifty in using fuel," he was quoted as saying. "We fear the oil reserves will deplete one day and we will become an oil-importing country."