Dominican President Defends Measures that Sparked Riots
SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic (AP) _ President Joaquin Balaguer, beginning his sixth term in office Thursday, defended his austerity plan that touched off deadly protests this week.
The nationwide strike Monday and Tuesday brought this Caribbean nation of 7 million people to a near-standstill. Clashes between protesters and security forces left at least 11 dead and 50 wounded. Police arrested 2,000 protesters.
At his inauguration Thursday, Balaguer said the program that prompted the protests is necessary.
″As I assume another term, I am obligated not to make promises, but to point out the changes that are needed to make the government work,″ the conservative president said in his inaugural address.
Balaguer, 83 and blind from glaucoma, narrowly defeated his longtime leftist rival, Juan Bosch, in an election May 16. Bosch, 81, who accused Balaguer of widespread voter fraud, did not attend the inauguration.
About 200 government officials, diplomats and politicians attended the ceremony, but President Carlos Andres Perez of Venezuela was the only foreign head of state in the audience. Labor Secretary Elizabeth Dole headed the U.S. delegation.
Nine major unions organized the 48-hour strike this week to protest against sharply higher consumer prices imposed by the government last week. The austerity program is intended to bolster the country’s ailing economy.
Under the program recommended by the International Monetary Fund, the government cut subsidies and sharply increased prices for basic goods such as gasoline, flour and sugar.
The government estimates the annual inflation rate at 50 percent, but some officials privately say it is about 70 percent.
In his speech, Balaguer did not mention the protests specifically but said his economic policies were intended ″to improve the quality of life of the poor″ and ″to diminish or completely eliminate inflation.″
″I ask for help and cooperation from all men and women of goodwill in this country because the task we will have in the next four years will be arduous,″ he said.
Balaguer is beginning his second consecutive four-year term and his sixth over the past 30 years. He is founder and leader of conservative Social Christian Reformist Party.
The president is also a lawyer and author of about 20 books.
In his last term, Balaguer embarked on an ambitious $2 billion public works program that has been mostly financed by printing money. The construction project - much of it timed for completion in 1992 to coincide with the 500th anniversary of Columbus’ discovery of America - created hundreds of jobs but worsened inflation.