A - I N F O S N E W S S E R V I C E
Unrest in Jamaica Continues
Reuters, 22 April 1999
KINGSTON, JAMAICA - Protesters exchanged gunfire with security forces and barricaded streets with wrecked cars and burning tires yesterday as the death toll rose to four in unrest over fuel tax increases.
Soldiers patrolled Kingston streets in a bid to restore calm to the capital as looters ransacked shops. Businesses and schools across the Caribbean island remain closed. The unrest prompted airlines to cancel some flights and Britain to warn it's citizens against non-essential travel to Jamaica. The US Embassy told American residents and tourists to stay off the streets.
The unrest began Friday after Finance Minister Omar Davies unveiled a tax increase on diesel, gasoline, and other fuels to raise $75 million for roads and public transport. The increase raised the cost of fuel by about 30%, taking the price of leaded gasoline from $1.55 to $2.01 per gallon and diesel from $1.33 to $1.74 per gallon.
The protests spread Monday with demonstrations in Kingston and towns across the island. The unrest escalated Tuesday as businesses, public transportation, and schools shut down. Police report that four people have been killed since Monday.
Authorities had initially imposed a nighttime curfew Tuesday but extended it into daylight hours.
Yesterday, many businesses and schools were closed as demonstrators again barricaded streets, and police and protesters exchanged gunfire in Kingston and outlying areas. At least 140 people have been arrested during the protests.
As the crisis deepened, homeowners began running low on food, prompting long lines at the few stores that opened their doors in the capital.
Air Jamaica said four of it's scheduled flights from south Florida to Jamaica would proceed yesterday, but it canceled two nighttime flights because of the unrest. American Airlines said it had canceled all flights to Kingston. British Airways, BWIA, and Air Canada also canceled flights.
Law makers were set to meet yesterday to discuss the unrest. Supporters of the ruling People's National Party spoke out against the protest and began to clear roadblocks in some of their strongholds.
Prime Minister P.J. Patterson addressed the nation late Tuesday, announcing that a team had been appointed to examine ways to minimize the impact of the tax. But he said the new budget was the best way to pay for transportation, education, health, roads, and inner-city projects.
Opposition Leader Edward Seaga said the Jamaica Labour Party would hold a protest march and vowed to continue supporting the demonstrations. "The situation is very serious but the people are very serious, too, and have no intentions of giving up," Seaga said.
The A-Infos News Service