The Americas

Mexican president defends gas price hike as protests spread

  • Residents steal gasoline and diesel from a gas station following protests against an increase in fuel prices in Allende, southern Veracuz State, Mexico, late Tuesday Jan. 3, 2017. The gas station attendants who had turned off the power to inactivate the pumps were intimidated by demonstrators into turning them back on, and allowing the residents to take the fuel. Nationwide protests continued as small groups shut down or looted gas stations and blocked roads to protest a price deregulation that has sent the cost of fuel up by as much as 20 percent. (AP Photo/Erick Herrera)

    Residents steal gasoline and diesel from a gas station following protests against an increase in fuel prices in Allende, southern Veracuz State, Mexico, late Tuesday Jan. 3, 2017. The gas station attendants who had turned off the power to inactivate the pumps were intimidated by demonstrators into turning them back on, and allowing the residents to take the fuel. Nationwide protests continued as small groups shut down or looted gas stations and blocked roads to protest a price deregulation that has sent the cost of fuel up by as much as 20 percent. (AP Photo/Erick Herrera)  (The Associated Press)

  • Residents pilfer gasoline and diesel from a gas station following protests against an increase in fuel prices in Allende, southern Veracuz State, Mexico, late Tuesday Jan. 3, 2017. The gas station attendants who had turned off the power to inactivate the pumps were intimidated by demonstrators into turning them back on, and allowing the residents to take the fuel. Nationwide protests continued as small groups shut down or looted gas stations and blocked roads to protest a price deregulation that has sent the cost of fuel up by as much as 20 percent. (AP Photo/Erick Herrera)

    Residents pilfer gasoline and diesel from a gas station following protests against an increase in fuel prices in Allende, southern Veracuz State, Mexico, late Tuesday Jan. 3, 2017. The gas station attendants who had turned off the power to inactivate the pumps were intimidated by demonstrators into turning them back on, and allowing the residents to take the fuel. Nationwide protests continued as small groups shut down or looted gas stations and blocked roads to protest a price deregulation that has sent the cost of fuel up by as much as 20 percent. (AP Photo/Erick Herrera)  (The Associated Press)

  • A man gives a thumbs up to passing drivers honking in support, after dozens of truck drivers angry over an increase in gas prices parked their vehicles, put up signs, and then waved motorists through toll booths without paying, at the Palmillas toll plaza, 102 kilometers outside Mexico City on the highway to Queretaro, Tuesday, Jan. 3, 2017. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)

    A man gives a thumbs up to passing drivers honking in support, after dozens of truck drivers angry over an increase in gas prices parked their vehicles, put up signs, and then waved motorists through toll booths without paying, at the Palmillas toll plaza, 102 kilometers outside Mexico City on the highway to Queretaro, Tuesday, Jan. 3, 2017. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)  (The Associated Press)

Mexico's president is strongly defending his unpopular move to hike gasoline prices 20 percent as highway blockades and protests continue across the country.

President Enrique Pena Nieto says he will try to help groups hit hard by the increases, an apparent reference to bus, truck and taxi drivers. The increases went into effect over the weekend.

Pena Nieto said Wednesday that "I understand the anger and irritation felt by the general public."

He says "this is an action that nobody would want to take," but adds: "If this decision had not been taken, the effects and consequences would have been far more painful."

The government is ending regulated prices for gasoline and diesel, which it says unduly benefited wealthier Mexicans.

Protesters have blockaded highways and gas stations across Mexico.