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1979: Grenada leader ousted by coup

AUDIO : Report from post-coup Grenada

A coup in the Caribbean island of Grenada has toppled the country's controversial Prime Minister, Sir Eric Gairy.

Sir Eric was at the United Nations in New York when he was overthrown.

After initially denying anything was amiss, Sir Eric, 56, said the coup leaders had shot dead a soldier and a policeman and taken four hostages, including one of his ministers.

He has appealed to the US and British for help in capturing what he described as a "small group of Communists".

Radio broadcasts

The coup is believed to have been staged by members of the New Jewel party, a left-wing opposition group in Grenada's parliament.

Their leader, Maurice Bishop, has been broadcasting regularly on Radio Grenada - renamed Radio Free Grenada - since the takeover early this morning.

Mr Bishop has been appealing to Grenadians to remain calm and has pledged that all "democratic freedoms" will be fully restored.

Describing himself as the new prime minister, Mr Bishop said the national barracks had been taken by force before by "people's revolutionary forces".

The police force had surrendered and leading cabinet ministers had been arrested, Mr Bishop added.

Grenada, the most-southerly of the Windward Islands, has a population of 100,000.

It became independent of Britain in 1974 but is still a member of the Commonwealth.

'Mongoose squad'

Sir Eric Gairy was appointed premier in 1967 and then prime minister after independence.

He was a favourite of US President Richard Nixon but his standing has fallen in recent years after constant allegations of human rights abuses and corruption.

Many of the human rights complaints have been laid at the door of Sir Eric's personal protection unit, known as the "Mongoose squad".

Its members were blamed for the death of coup leader Maurice Bishop's father during violence on the day the island got its independence.

In Context
Maurice Bishop ruled Grenada for the next four years.

His regime forged closer links to Cuba and Russia causing American suspicion.

In October 1983 Maurice Bishop was killed by supporters of his deputy, Bernard Coard, who resented attempts to mend bridges with the US.

Later that month 6,000 US troops invaded Grenada.

Mr Coard and his wife Phyllis were among 19 government and army officials put on trial for the murder of Mr Bishop and ten other people.

The Coards and 12 others were found guilty and sentenced to death, later commuted to life imprisonment.

An election held in 1984 was won by the centre-left New National party (NNP) led by Herbert Blaize.

The NNP has remained in power ever since - it is currently led by Keith Mitchell.


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