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Tuesday, May 18, 1999 Published at 04:25 GMT 05:25 UK

World: Americas

Privy Council blocks executions

There has been anger in Trinidad about the stay of execution

The UK is set for a diplomatic row with Trinidad and Tobago after stepping in to block the execution of nine convicted killers.

Drugs baron Dole Chadee and eight members of his gang had been scheduled to die by hanging in groups of three on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.

But on Monday Britain's Privy Council stayed the executions of the nine, sparking anger among some Trinidadians.

Although Trinidad and Tobago became independent in 1976, the Privy Council in London remains its court of last resort.

The executions would have been the first in the twin-island Caribbean nation since 1994.

The UK Government has been trying to persuade its former colonies in the Caribbean to abolish capital punishment.

Family massacred

Chadee and his gang were convicted of murdering a family of four in January 1994.

Rookmin Baboolal, her son Hamilton and her daughter Monica were dragged from their bedrooms and shot in the head.

Mrs Baboolal's husband, Deo, was shot dead as he ran away.

Hamilton Baboolal and his family were killed after he threatened to quit Chadee's gang, which modelled itself on the Colombian drugs cartels.

Chadee, Joey Ramiah, Ramkellawan Singh, Robin Gopaul, Russell Sankeralli, Clive Thomas, Bhagwandeen Singh, Stephen Eversley and Joel Ramsingh have been on Death Row since September 1996.

Graves have already been dug for them at Golden Grove prison.

Executions have overwhelming public support in Trinidad, where crime - especially drugs-inspired crime - is rife.

Spared the gallows

A spokesman for Trinidad and Tobago's Attorney General, Ramesh Maharaj, said: "The Privy Council adjourned hearings and the hangings will not take place this week."

The Privy Council will resume debate on a last-minute appeal by the nine's lawyers on 26 May.

Opinion polls suggest 80% of Trinidadians support capital punishment, which has encouraged Prime Minister Basdeo Panday to try and speed up the execution process.

Mr Maharaj, a former opponent of the death penalty, is at the forefront of Mr Panday's campaign.

Last year Trinidad and Tobago withdrew from the optional protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which had given those on Death Row the right to petition the United Nations Human Rights Committee.

Caribbean justice

Trinidad and Tobago is also trying to remove the Privy Council's right to rule on criminal appeals.

The 15-nation Caribbean Community is expected to approve the creation of a Caribbean Court of Justice in July. It would replace the Privy Council as a court of last resort for Trinidadians.

The Roman Catholic Archbishop of Trinidad, Anthony Pantin, said he was concerned about the lack of support for abolition of the death penalty.

He said: "It is wrong and very unacceptable to want to hang people because of vindictiveness."

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