Dominican Republic's Former President Speaks Amid Unrest Over Budget Deficit

As unrest continued in the Caribbean nation, the Dominican Republic's former President Leonel Fernández made a rare television appearance defending his record over plans to raise taxes to help close a budget deficit incurred under his government.

Fernández insisted Tuesday night that there was nothing fraudulent about the Caribbean country's $4.6 billion deficit.

Fernández left office in August and says the deficit largely stems from shortfalls in government revenue as well as public works projects that were approved by lawmakers. He also defends his successor's plan to close the gap with increases in the sales, property and fuel taxes.

The speech Tuesday night was a rare national address by a former president.

Fernández spoke just days after thousands of people marched in protest in the Dominican Republic's two largest cities.

A student protest over the weekend turned deadly when police opened fire of demonstrators, killing a 21-year old medical student.

The protests at the university were part of a larger national movement over tax increases that angered many civic groups who claim the rises are a product of corruption of the administration of Fernández. Danilo Medina assumed the presidency of the Dominican republic in May, but Fernandez’s political party still controls both houses of the legislature.

“This country is on the verge of bankruptcy because they took every penny,” said Jorgy Cruz Soto, the owner of a production company in Santo Domingo, adding, “We are very close to a civil revolution.”

Lawmakers in the Dominican Republic claimed they had no choice but to pass the tax bill, which hopes to close a $4.6 billion budget deficit by upping the country’s sales tax to 18 percent from 16 percent.

Students want 5 percent of the budget to be funneled into the university.

Based on reporting by the Associated Press.

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