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Page last updated at 21:03 GMT, Tuesday, 1 April 2008 22:03 UK

Jamaica poor 'at mercy of gangs'

Children peer out of a window in Kingston, Jamaica
Kingston has one of the highest crime rates in the world

Jamaica's poor have been abandoned by the government and left to the mercy of violent criminal gangs, Amnesty International says in a new report.

The human rights group said inner-city Jamaicans were being "held hostage" in the battle between gangs and the state.

It said Jamaican authorities had stigmatised and "wilfully neglected" inner-city communities.

Jamaica has one of the region's highest murder rates, with 1,500 homicides in 2007 and 272 police killings.

"Criminal gangs... keep thousands of people living in constant fear," Amnesty's Fernanda Doz Costa said.

"Entire populations are shut down by barricades and unable to leave their homes after 5pm. Children don't go out to school and adults don't go to work because transport is suspended."

More murders

The human rights group urged Jamaican authorities to address the underlying causes of what it said was a "human rights crisis".

It said the government should act to reduce murder rates, introduce human-rights based policing and reform the judicial system.

There has been no official comment from Jamaican authorities on the Amnesty report but on Tuesday Police Commissioner Hardley Lewin acknowledged that the number of major crimes had increased.

He said murders had gone up 9% from a month earlier and there had also been a 25% increase in the number of robberies, according to the Caribbean Media Corporation.

A total of 300 people have been killed on the island since the beginning of the year.


SEE ALSO
Jamaica acts over police abuse
09 Jun 03 |  Americas
Dead men tell no tales
14 Sep 01 |  Crossing Continents
Jamaica: The new Wild West
10 Aug 02 |  From Our Own Correspondent
Country profile: Jamaica
23 May 03 |  Country profiles

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