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PM declares limited state of emergency

Crackdown on crime
Tuesday, August 23, 2011
pg 3 to fix lonked to 7
Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar shakes hands with acting Chief of Defence Staff Brigadier General Kenrick Maharaj, while National Security Minister John Sandy looks on, after last night’s news conference at the PM’s private residence in Phillipine, San Fernando. Photo: Rishi Ragoonath

In an open declaration of war on crime, Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar has announced the institution of a limited state of emergency in several areas deemed as crime hot spots, effective as off midnight last night. Last night, Persad-Bissessar, after an emergency meeting with members of the National Security Council and her Cabinet at her private Phillipine, San Fernando, residence, said: “The limited state of emergency will take effect from midnight tonight (Sunday.)” A tough-talking Persad-Bissessar, backed by acting Chief of Defence Staff Brigadier General Kenrick Maharaj, Commanding Officer of the Army Col Anthony Phillips-Spencer, Deputy Police Commissioner Stephen Williams and Prisons Commissioner John Rougier, said: “This is not an easy decision to make. It is not a light thing to trigger Section 8:1 of our Constitution, but when it is that the circumstances call for it, I do believe that as leaders of our nation it is our duty first and foremost to give the greatest protection we can to our citizens.”

The Prime Minister linked the crime surge to the recent success of the police in the seizure of large drug hauls, the values of which had been in the excess of $20 million.  “These large sums of money do not just disappear from the drug trade without consequences and in some of the cases now occurring, the question isn’t just what is causing it but what do we do? How do we deal with it?” she said. “I do not believe that anyone 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 a history of a nation when we have to take very strong action, very decisive action,” she declared. The Prime Minister, speaking briefly with reporters after the briefing, said the 11 murders in one day was the breaking point for the Government.

She dismissed the notion that crime was out of control, saying, however, “it is a cause for concern.” She said: “The current crime spree dictates that more must be done and stronger action must be employed now. “The situation cannot continue like this without the response that is commensurate with the wanton acts of violence and lawlessness,” the PM said.  “It must be a response as well that halts the current spike in gang activity and crime in general in the shortest possible time.”  While she shied away from revealing the areas identified as hot spots, the T&T Guardian understands that 11 communities have been named in the limited state of emergency.

Persad-Bissessar said the proclamation, together with the emergency powers regulations, was sent to President George Maxwell Richards for his signature. She said she spoke to Richards and he had agreed to sign the documents which will “set out in more detail the operationalisation of the limited state of emergency.” The regulations, she said, “will constrict or restrict the ambit of the emergency powers being exercised by the police and the military.” She said the emergency powers curfew order would also be put into place which would implement curfews within the designated areas for certain periods.

Later today, National Security Minister John Sandy is expected to hold a media briefing where he will give updates terms of the state of emergency, how it will work and the specific areas that will be affected. The Constitution provides for three days for a limited state of emergency and a notification to the Speaker of the House for 15 days. Any period over 15 days will require the calling of Parliament into session for approval. She said the state of emergency would be reviewed on a daily basis.

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