PORT OF SPAIN, (Reuters) – Authorities rounded up nearly 120 people in Trinidad and Tobago after imposing emergency rule on the oil-rich Caribbean nation this week to halt a spike in violent crime.
Police Commissioner Dwayne Gibbs said 117 criminal suspects were detained between Tuesday night and yesterday morning, including at least 56 purported gang members on charges ranging from drug possession and trafficking to illegal weapons possession.
They were arrested under the limited state of emergency announced by Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar on Sunday, which gave the police and military broad powers to conduct search and seizure operations and make arrests.
The provisional suspension of some constitutional guarantees came in response to a spate of murders blamed on the drug trade and turf wars over smuggling routes through Trinidad and Tobago, which is a trans-shipment point for South American cocaine headed to Europe and the United States.
The twin-island southern Caribbean country, has faced a growing threat from heavily armed street gangs.
Attorney General Anand Ramlogan urged gang members to lay down their arms and get on the right side of the law. Despite potential reprisals, he suggested they help police uncover drug and weapons caches.
“If you share with us, information on a gang, not only will you be able to come out of that gang but we can snuff out the lifeblood and very existence of gangs so that you can be able to have a life of your own,” Ramlogan told a news conference yesterday.
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, attempted a coup.