| PORT OF SPAIN
PORT OF SPAIN The number of suspects detained in an alleged plot to assassinate Trinidad and Tobago's prime minister rose to 13, a top security official said on Monday while offering few new details about the conspiracy.
National Security Minister John Sandy faced intense questioning at a news conference from reporters pressing for more specifics since Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar announced on Thursday that officials had uncovered a plot.
The government's vague announcement and reluctance to provide more information has puzzled many in this twin-island Caribbean country, a leading oil and gas producer and the top supplier of liquefied natural gas to the United States.
Sandy said a total of 13 people had been detained in connection with the alleged assassination plot, including a police officer, two former police officers and an ex-Coast Guard member. Last week, police said nearly a dozen people had been rounded up.
None of the detainees have been shown publicly and officials have not said what evidence led to the arrests.
"What we have unearthed is real," Sandy said, but he gave no new information about the possible motives for the alleged conspiracy to assassinate the prime minister.
Persad-Bissessar, a former attorney general, said on Thursday the plot targeted her and three cabinet ministers.
She called it a planned reprisal by criminals angry over a state of emergency she declared three months ago to crack down on drug-related crime and gang activity in Trinidad and Tobago.
Sandy said Persad-Bissessar's decision to go public with the news that authorities had uncovered the plot was "because a lot of rumors were flying ... about a coup and things like that."
SURGING CRIME, FALTERING ECONOMY
But opposition figures have strongly questioned the government's assertion that a plot existed, saying the prime minister wants to use it as a pretext to extend the state of emergency, which is set to expire on December 5.
"The government ... has come up with this story about an assassination plot, which cannot stand public scrutiny," opposition leader Keith Rowley said.
"The government's action is hysterical, political expediency," he added in comments published over the weekend.
Many ordinary Trinidadians have also expressed doubt, suggesting Persad-Bissessar may be trying to shore up political support at a time when her government has been struggling to revive a faltering economy.
Trinidad and Tobago has been seeking to attract fresh foreign investors, especially in the strategic energy sector.
In declaring the anti-crime emergency in August, Persad-Bissessar cited a surge in murders and other violent activity linked to the drugs trade.
Located just seven miles off the coast of Venezuela, Trinidad and Tobago has become a trans-shipment point for South American drugs headed to Europe and the United States.
Sandy appeared to suggest drug activity was proving an increasing problem for the government.
"I think we need to take cognizance of the fact that Trinidad and Tobago, because of where we sit geographically, has lent itself to a number of issues," he said. "I think we need to be a bit more serious about some of the things that happen around us."
(Editing by Pascal Fletcher and Paul Simao)