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The Squeeze - Aug 27

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United Nations warns fuel price hikes could worsen Myanmar's economic situation

Associated Press
The United Nations Monday warned fuel price hikes in Myanmar could worsen the country's precarious economic situation, as dozens of pro-democracy activists resumed their protests against the increase.

...Earlier this month, the military junta increased fuel prices overnight by as much as 500 percent, by slashing subsidies that had kept domestic oil prices low for years. The hikes resulted in increases in prices of public transport - some since rolled back - and also higher prices for some basic commodities due to higher transport costs.

Charles Petrie, the U.N. humanitarian chief in Myanmar, said the price hike will hit most Myanmar families hard, since almost 90 percent live below or near the poverty line, which he defined as living on a US$1 a day.

"It's going to make things more expensive and make it more difficult for people to survive," Petrie told The Associated Press. "It will contribute to the continued deterioration of the standard of living for a significant portion of the population."

Petrie also said the fact the increase was imposed all at once, rather than phased in over time, showed the regime was "out of touch" with the average citizen.
(27 August 2007)


Zimbabwe economy in free fall

Rich Schapiro, Christian Science Monitor
Inflation tops 7,600 percent as the country's economic crisis forces people to flee the country or scrounge for food.
---
Harare, Zimbabwe; and Musina, South Africa - Once considered a shining example of Africa's potential, Zimbabwe is now a country in the throes of its worst economic crisis in decades.

Critical shortages of food, fuel, foreign currency, and, in some areas, water beset a nation where the official inflation rate tops 7,600 percent. Some analysts believe the real figure is much higher and climbing fast.

"We can't get anything now - no bread, no petrol ... nothing," says Shephard Lunga, a truck driver from Bulawayo, Zimbabwe's second largest city. "If you don't have somebody who's outside the country supplying you with things, you're finished."

The country's beleaguered economy has taken a turn for the worse since late June, when President Robert Mugabe ordered all prices cut by at least 50 percent in a bid to slow runaway inflation. The move backfired, causing manufacturers to stop producing their goods. Now grocery store shelves are barren, and people are increasingly hungry.

Even a casual stroll through the capital, Harare, shows the consequences of the country's record inflation. Supermarkets that once offered an impressive array of cereals and ice cream no longer carry even the basic goods every Zimbabwean relies upon: things such as cooking oil, bread, and cornmeal.
(27 August 2007)


The Gasoline Crisis in Iran

Y. Mansharof and A. Savyon,
Iranian Website Warns of Impending Crisis

...An analysis posted July 22, 2007 on the Alef website criticized the government propaganda, which is emphasizing the achievements of the rationing program while disregarding the hardships that the people are experiencing under it. The following are excerpts:

"During the past two or three weeks, confidential reports have given an alarming picture of the state of the urban and intercity public transportation: [Public] services are shutting down; some taxi drivers are trading in gasoline [rationing cards], while others do not [even] receive [the cards]; taxi services are gradually coming to a standstill; prices of intercity public transportation have significantly risen... The public is feeling the effects of this [crisis] directly.

"Right now, in mid-summer, when the demands on urban public transportation are minimal, [these] reports may appear negligible. However, each one of them is a piece of a puzzle which, if put together, would present an alarming picture of impending crisis: torched buses, looted banks and shops, gas stations set on fire by people fed up with the inflation, apartment shortages, and interminable lines of [standing] buses, trains and taxis - [and all this] by mid-September 2007 (when the demands on public transportation will be at their peak)."

Y. Mansharof is a Research Fellow at MEMRI; A. Savyon is Director of MEMRI's Iranian Media Project.
(28 August 2007)
Contributor Jeffrey J. Brown writes:
Kind of makes you wonder what will happen in the US when we have to confront gasoline shortages.

BA:
Reporting about Iran is highly politicized, so it's a good idea to check sites with different viewpoints (don't rely on just the US media). A good backgrounder on Iran's gas rationing comes from Farideh Farhi on a group blog, of which Middle East scholar and commentator Juan Cole is a member.

About MEMRI:

The Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) explores the Middle East through the region's media. MEMRI bridges the language gap which exists between the West and the Middle East, providing timely translations of Arabic, Persian, and Turkish media, as well as original analysis of political, ideological, intellectual, social, cultural, and religious trends in the Middle East.
Founded in February 1998 to inform the debate over U.S. policy in the Middle East, MEMRI is an independent, nonpartisan, nonprofit, 501 (c)3 organization. MEMRI's headquarters is located in Washington, DC with branch offices in Berlin, London, Tokyo and Jerusalem.

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