Mexican president defends gas price hike as protests spread

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.