Trinidad declares state of emergency to fight crime

Reuters News
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Posted: Aug 22, 2011 4:30 PM
Trinidad declares state of emergency to fight crime

By Linda Hutchinson-Jafar

PORT OF SPAIN (Reuters) - The government has clamped a limited form of emergency rule on Trinidad and Tobago in a bid to halt a surge in violent crime linked to the drug trade in the oil-rich Caribbean country.

"The nation will not be held to ransom by marauding groups of thugs bent on creating havoc on our society," said Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar, who announced a "limited" state of emergency on Sunday night.

She said emergency rule, which includes a dusk-to-dawn curfew and broader powers for authorities to conduct search and seizure operations and make arrests in the twin-island nation, had been provoked by "gang activity" and "wanton acts of violence and lawlessness."

Persad-Bissessar linked the crime spree in the southern Caribbean nation to recent drug seizures and to violent reprisals against a crackdown by police on the use of Trinidad as a transshipment point for South American cocaine headed to Europe and the United States.

"These large sums of money do not just disappear from the drug trade without consequences," she said.

She did not elaborate but Trinidad and Tobago, which is a leading supplier of liquefied natural gas to the United States, has long been considered a hotspot for drug and arms smuggling through the Caribbean.

The bloodletting included the killing of 11 people over the weekend, Persad-Bissessar added, saying that helped trigger her decision to give the police and military emergency powers.

"I do not believe that any one of us can continue to wake up every morning to see the blood of our children on the soil of our land, and so there comes a time I believe in the history of a nation where we have to take very strong action," the prime minister said in her nationally televised announcement.

Authorities last imposed a state of emergency in Trinidad and Tobago in July 1990 when members of a local extremist Muslim group, Jamaat al Muslimeen, staged a coup attempt.

"Our objective primarily is to eliminate crime," National Security Minister John Sandy told a news conference on Monday, as he spoke about emergency measures that include the suspension of some constitutional guarantees.

"We are going after gang members who have been using firearms to murder our citizens at will. We are going after the drug traffickers, we are looking to get these weapons off the streets," he said.

"These are desperate times," added Attorney General Anand Ramlogan, countering criticism from some analysts who said the government may be going too far in its response to crime.

"This is not about the deprivation of human rights. It is, in fact, about the restoration of human rights for all our citizens in the country," Ramlogan said.

(Editing by Jackie Frank)