(Bloomberg) -- A major Bangladesh opposition party gathered thousands of supporters in capital Dhaka to protest a record fuel price hike announced by the government to preserve fuel reserves as it looks to multilateral lenders to shore up its foreign exchange reserves as import bills balloon.   

The Bangladesh Nationalist Party described the weekend price hike by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s government as a “tool to suppress people.” The protests are expected to expand to other cities and towns on Friday.

“Leaders and activists at all levels will join the rally,” Abdus Salam, convenor of the BNP’s Dhaka Metropolitan South, told reporters ahead of Thursday’s demonstration. “We assume people who are not directly involved with politics will also join the protests.”

The government announced as much as a 52% rise in fuel oil prices, a record jump for the nation, sparking street protests. Shortly after, transport operators increased bus fares, adding to public discontent.

The South Asian nation is also considering staggered holidays for garment manufacturers to tackle a worsening power crunch caused by fuel shortages.

Bangladesh last month sought a loan from the International Monetary Fund, in a move seen as a pre-emptive measure to shore up its forex reserves. The country’s reserves slipped to $39.67 billion as of Aug. 3 from $45.9 billion a year earlier. The trade deficit widened to a record $33.3 billion in the fiscal year ended June.

The government has also announced a series of austerity measures, including curbs on the imports of luxury goods, to preserve dollars.

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