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China Exclusive: Gov't denies gas price hike after panic buying


08:24, March 28, 2013

BEIJING, March 27 (Xinhua) -- China's top economic planner on Wednesday denied rumors of a substantial rise in natural gas prices after a related news report caused residents in some cities to stand in long lines to buy fuel.

The news is groundless and false, said a pricing official with the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC).

Price adjustments are closely related to public interests and any change in prices will have to be prefaced by strict procedures, including public hearings, the official said.

The China Business Times reported Monday that gas prices will be raised by some 30 percent to about 3.5 yuan per cubic meter in April.

The report was carried by multiple online news portals, prompting residents in dozens of cities nationwide to rush to purchase gas.

In the city of Binzhou in east China's Shandong Province, about 150 people lined up at a gas company to buy gas Wednesday afternoon.

Some buyers said they waited for up to two hours. Police officers were sent to maintain order.

The company's employees told the crowd that there would be no price hikes in the short-term, but their assurances failed to convince the buyers.

"Many market rumors have turned out to be true before, so I'd rather believe that the news is true this time," said one buyer.

Many residents in Changsha, capital of central China's Hunan Province, reportedly purchased enough gas to reach the monthly purchase limit of 600 cubic meters. In the city of Ya'an in southwest China's Sichuan Province, some shop owners reportedly purchased as many as 2,000 cubic meters, as there are no limits for non-resident consumers.

The run on gas has prompted authorities in many regions to clarify that the news report was a rumor and that public hearings are needed before any decisions can be made on price hikes.

The rumors came amid intensified efforts to push market-oriented pricing for energy resources.

On Tuesday, the NDRC announced that it would shorten the pricing cycle for oil products to every 10 working days to better reflect changes in the global oil market.

Dong Xiucheng, an energy expert at the China University of Petroleum, said the government will be very cautious in adjusting prices for natural gas.

"The current direction involves a progressive pricing mechanism for residential use of natural gas," Dong said.

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