Page last updated at 11:32 GMT, Saturday, 7 June 2008 12:32 UK

Oil hike sparks 'serious concern'

Oil rig, Culver City, US
Some suggest crude could reach $150 a barrel by July

The US and the four largest economies in Asia are to voice "serious concerns" over "unprecedented" oil prices.

Energy ministers are meeting in Japan a day after a record one-day jump in the crude oil price, to $139 a barrel.

Under pressure from the US, Japan, China, India and South Korea have agreed on the need to end fuel subsidies, blamed for boosting demand.

But correspondents say there are major differences over the speed and extent to which the changes should be made.

The soaring cost of oil is causing growing strain to economies around the world, with some governments facing protests and other pressures from consumers and businesses.

Both the Indian and Malaysian governments have recently raised fuel prices in order to cut the subsidies they provide.

Officials and ministers from the Group of Eight (G8) key industrialised nations, as well as China, India and South Korea, are meeting for two days in the northern city of Aomori.

In a statement to be issued after the talks, the US and Asian countries are expected to say rising oil prices pose a great burden, especially on developing countries and are "against the interest of both consuming and producing countries", news agencies reported.

It will also say that "phased and gradual" withdrawal of price subsidies - blamed by some for fuelling demand in emerging economies - is "desirable", the French news agency AFP said.

But India insisted there was no agreement to remove the subsidies altogether, China made clear it had no time frame for moving towards lower subsidies, and Japan's trade minister confirmed they had agreed only on the need to remove the subsidies, according to the BBC's Chris Hogg, in Tokyo.

'Economic egotism'

Friday's spike in oil prices coincided with a dollar slump, plummeting share prices on Wall Street and US unemployment suffering its biggest rise in 20 years.

Russia is a global player. We understand our responsibility for the fate of the world and want to participate in forming the rules of the game
Dmitry Medvedev
Russian president

On Saturday, US energy secretary Samuel Bodman said the price surge was a "shock" but not a crisis, amid fears the oil price spike could help tip some of the world's economies into recession.

He also said he did not see a need for a tightening of regulation of oil markets.

Some say market speculation, and a lack of disclosure of information over the size and nature of reserves, may be stoking the price rises, as well as concerns that demand may be growing faster than supply.

Separately, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev blamed what he termed the US's "economic egotism" for the current problems in the global economy.

He accused the US of "aggressive financial policies" and said most people in the world had become poorer.

Speaking at the St Petersburg International Economic Forum, he said Russia was a "global player" and wished to "participate in forming new rules of the game", but not because of "imperial ambitions".

Iran threat

On Friday light crude set a record high of $139.12 in after-hours trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange after hitting $138.54 at the regular session.

Oil prices were given a boost on a report by Morgan Stanley analyst Ole Slorer, who suggested the price of oil could rocket to $150 as early as July.

Some analysts have suggested that prices would reach as high as $200 a barrel during the next 18 months.

The benchmark light, sweet crude oil is more than twice the price it was a year ago.

On Friday, the market was also responding to a statement by Israel's transport minister that an attack on Iran was "unavoidable" after sanctions to prevent Tehran from developing its nuclear capability had failed.

Investors hedging oil against the weak dollar has also pushed up the price of oil.

Correspondents say fears that workers at Chevron Corporation in Nigeria may go on strike and subsequently disrupt production and access to oil are also adding to market jitters, as well as Israeli threats to strike Iran over its nuclear programme.

Oil prices had recorded losses earlier this week after doubts about future demand took hold of the market.

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