Protesters decry gas price hikes in Mexico City. (PHOTO: AFP)

MEXICO CITY — Hundreds of irate Mexicans marched in Mexico City to protest a steep rise in gasoline prices, AFP news agency reported.

They carried signs denouncing President Enrique Pena Nieto, whose government announced last week that the price of gasoline would increase by as much as 20 percent to $0.88 USD per liter on New Year’s Day, while diesel would rise by 16.5 percent to $0.83 USD.

Pena Nieto has promised that fuel prices will eventually fall thanks to a landmark 2014 energy reform he instituted, which ended a seven-decade-old monopoly held by the state-run firm Pemex.

The government plans to end subsidies and let the market dictate prices in March. But Mexicans will feel the pinch at the pump before they start falling.

The protesters marched Sunday Jan. 1 along Mexico City’s Reforma avenue towards the vast central square called the Zocalo.

“With this news about gasoline I don’t know how much more we can take,” said Dulce Maria Coeta, a homemaker. “Even as it is, the minimum wage is not enough to buy groceries. Now, it will be even worse.”

Protesters decry gas prize hikes in Mexico City. (PHOTO: AFP)
Protesters decry gas price hikes in Mexico City. (PHOTO: AFP)

Mexicans flocked to gas stations last week to fill their tanks before the price rise. News reports Sunday said some ran out of fuel.

Pemex said this happened in less than one percent of its service stations.

The protests are the latest headache for Pena Nieto.

His popularity has plummeted below 25 percent this year due to his government’s failure to curb drug-related violence, disappointing economic growth and his unpopular decision to host Donald Trump before the anti-immigration Republican won the US presidential election.

The fall in global oil prices in recent years has forced the government to cut its budget and slash spending at Pemex.

And the peso has fallen to historic lows due to Trump’s protectionist rhetoric against Mexico.

The liberalization of gasoline prices was supposed to begin in 2018, but the government decided to start it now.