November 24, 2011 / 6:34 PM / 8 years ago

Trinidad PM says police thwarted assassination plot

PORT OF SPAIN (Reuters) - Trinidad and Tobago Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar said on Thursday the country’s law enforcement officials foiled a plot involving army soldiers and police officers to assassinate her and other government officials.

The prime minister, speaking during a nationally televised press conference, offered few specific details of the alleged plot. But she described it as a “reprisal” for a state of emergency she imposed three months ago to halt a surge in violent crime tied to the drug trade.

Security forces “thwarted an evil, devious act of treason,” Persad-Bissessar said.

Nearly a dozen people have been arrested in connection with the plot, including members of the army and police, Police Commissioner Dwayne Gibbs said.

“We are still working through what we have and working out the threats to our national security,” he said.

The twin-island nation, a top Caribbean gas and oil producer and a leading supplier of liquefied natural gas to the United States, has been under a state of emergency since August, with an increased presence of police and army troops on the streets.

Persad-Bissessar declared the security measure, which suspends some constitutional guarantees and gives the police and military sweeping powers to make arrests, in a bid to crack down on drug-related violence.

Trinidad and Tobago has also faced a growing crime problem linked to heavily armed street gangs.

It came in response to a spate of murders blamed on drug trafficking and turf wars over smuggling routes through Trinidad and Tobago, a trans-shipment point for South American cocaine headed to Europe and the United States.

Persad-Bissessar said the state of emergency has left criminals “hurting.” ... “We are flushing them out, we are making it almost impossible for them to operate as they would have done in the past,” she said.

The alleged plot comes at a time when Trinidad and Tobago is working to draw new investment to its energy sector, which accounts for nearly half the country’s gross domestic product.

Government statistics show oil production has fallen steadily over the last decade and natural gas development has also slumped.

Police and other security services have been placed on high alert after the discovery of the assassination plot, a police official said.

The government moved recently to lift a nighttime curfew put in place as part of the state of emergency.

Since August, more than 7,000 people have been arrested on charges of drug dealing, gang activities, homicide and other serious offenses, officials say.

Security officials have seized more than 13,000 rounds of ammunition and destroyed illegal drugs worth more than $240 million.

Writing by Kevin Gray; Editing by Philip Barbara and Todd Eastham

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