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Thu, May 22, 2003 - Page 12 News List

Malaysia will provide economic relief

AP , KUALA LUMPUR

The government plans to offer more than 800 million ringgit (US$210 million) in assistance to sectors battered by SARS as part of an almost 2 billion ringgit (US$526 million) economic package.

The package, which was to be unveiled yesterday by Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, would abolish a service tax for hotels and restaurants and offer rebates on electricity bills for hotels, said one source, who spoke to reporters on condition of anonymity Tuesday.

Retail stores at airports would get rental rebates, the source added.

The details indicate the depth of concern about the negative affects of severe acute respiratory syndrome, which has killed more than 660 people and sickened at least 7,800 worldwide, mostly in Asia, and sent travel and tourism sectors in the region reeling. Malaysia has reported two deaths and six probable infections.

Government officials say SARS and the Iraq war are among factors that will likely force a downward revision of Malaysia's forecast growth rate of 4.5 percent this year, though Mahathir has said it will be higher than last year's 4.2 percent.

Although Malaysia has not been as severely hit by SARS as some of its Asian neighbors, the country has felt the impact of the disease in its tourism sector -- the second-biggest foreign exchange earner -- and manufacturing. Both tourist and business arrivals have fallen sharply this year, and hotel occupancy rates in Malaysia are down by up to 33 percent.

Another source said besides SARS-affected industries, the economic package also aimed to boost small- and medium-sized enterprises to offset declining foreign direct investment.

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