Prime Minister Chuan Leekpai has moved to defend a controversial petrol tax that opponents warn could create a political crisis as prices soar for the first time since the collapse of the baht. Petrol prices yesterday rose one baht (18 HK cents) per litre after Cabinet approved a package of measures to secure continued International Monetary Fund support. Taxes on imported beer, wine and luxury goods are also set to soar under the deal devised by Finance Minister Tarrin Nimmanahaeminda. 'I know it is not possible to for all of the 60 million people in the country to agree with this move, but I have told the Finance Minister I stand by him,' Mr Chuan said announcing the rises. The package warns of higher-than-expected inflation over the next year and drastically reduced growth figures that confirm for the first time that Thailand has entered a recession. The petrol price rise is similar to one proposed by Mr Chuan's predecessor, General Chavalit Yongchaiyudh, that sparked a chain of events leading to his resignation in November. General Chavalit backed down from the move after just two days, sparking the resignation of his respected finance minister, Thanong Bidaya, and leading to a further crash in the baht. Political analysts believe Mr Chuan's position is much more secure but he could still face his first backlash from the public if the move sparks rises in living costs. The Democrats appear to have secured agreement among coalition partners for the move, but a string of pro-democracy groups remain firmly opposed. Ordinary people should not be forced to shoulder the debts of a frenzied private sector, student groups say. Democrat Party spokesmen yesterday played down the move, saying it would not hit general living costs. 'It is just for petrol so it will not affect industry or food production,' one said. 'Once we have sold this to the people, I am sure they will be in agreement.' The move is set to produce an extra 10 billion baht for the Government. Many areas of spending are now severely curtailed, particularly the military which is keeping a prized new aircraft carrier tied up at a wharf in the Gulf of Thailand.