Jamaican army deployed ahead of tax increase

KINGSTON, April 23 (Reuters) - Jamaica’s government put police and the army on alert to prevent violent demonstrations as it prepared to announce tax increases on gasoline, cigarettes and other consumer items on Thursday.

Police and soldiers were deployed at what the government called “strategic” locations across the Caribbean island to quell any violent protests. Finance and Planning Minister Audley Shaw was expected to announce the tax increases during a budget debate later on Thursday.

Prime Minister Bruce Golding told the nation during a national broadcast Wednesday night that Jamaicans should brace for tougher times because the island could not continue to borrow money to fill holes in the budget.

“There is speculation about the likelihood of tax increases and that there could be disturbances. But what purpose would that serve? Would it close the budget gap. Jamaica can no longer borrow to fill the gap in the budget,” Golding said.

The opposition People’s National Party has denied that it was arranging violent protests.

Media reports said business operators were employing additional private security to protect their establishments if there is violence and looting.

Nine people were killed during riots that broke out when a gasoline tax increase was announced in April 1999. (Reporting by Horace Helps, editing by Jane Sutton)