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Ahead of Trinidad polls, Indian-origin politician threatened

Port-of-Spain, May 9:

Kamla Persad-Bissessar, an Indian-origin woman who leads a coalition that seems poised to win snap elections in Trinidad and Tobago, has been threatened with assassination, police said.

An anonymous telephone call was made to Persad-Bissessar's Rienzi Complex office Wednesday evening. Apparently, the would-be killers have been offered around US$1 million for the assignment.

This is the first time any political leader has been threatened with death. The police are not taking it lightly and have ordered round-the-clock intensive security to Persad-Bissessar, who heads the United National Congress (UNC).

Police said they were "taking the threat seriously and investigating it. It seems to be a real threat after discussions with the UNC official who received the call".

Persad-Bissessar's forefathers were among the over 148,000 labourers who came from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar between 1845 and 1917 to work on the sugar plantations in Trinidad and Tobago.

Persad-Bissessar continues to gain national momentum. A poll by the University of the West Indies Psychological Department and commissioned by the Trinidad Guardian shows she leads the electoral race with 51 percent. Outgoing Prime Minister Patrick Manning has only 13 percent support.

The elections are due May 24.

Manning called for national elections, which are constitutionally due by November 2012, some 30 months early.

Persad-Bissessar, an attorney-at-law, unseated flamboyant and charismatic Basdeo Panday, who had been at the helm of opposition politics since 1976.

Panday served as prime minister between 1995 and 2001. This is the first time he will miss an election.

The coalition of parties is made up of the United National Congress (UNC); Congress of the People (COP) led by former deputy prime minister Winston Dookeran; Movement for Social Justice (MSJ) led by Errol Mcleod; National Joint Action Committee (NJAC) led by Makandal Daaga, who led this country's first revolution to ignite "black consciousness"; and the Tobago Organisation of People(TOP) led by Ashworth Jack.

Persad-Bissessar has been getting endorsements from several of the major trade unions, social and women's groups.

On Thursday, A.N.R. Robinson, who served as prime minister and president at different times, publicly endorsed her as the next prime minister of Trinidad and Tobago, which became independent from Britain in August 1962.

Leader of the Congress of the People, Dookeran told a mass political meeting that "the time has come for political, social and economic change in oil-rich Trinidad and Tobago".

He referred to both former opposition leader Basdeo Panday and Manning as two gatekeepers, accusing them of "stifling the progress and freedom of the 1.3 million people".

"This is the time for the people to decide their political future. This is the 21st century and the government is keeping the populace in a backward syndrome," Dookeran said.

Persad-Bissessar has visited India on several occasions, principally to attend the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas and to take part in meetings of the Commonwealth parliamentary associations.

She met Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh when he attended the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting here in November.

(News By IANS)





Kamla Persad-Bissessar