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Published on Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Jamaica declares state of emergency following rise in murders







Jamaica has declared a new state of emergency for parts of the west of the island, including the popular tourist resorts of Montego Bay and Negril, following an increase in serious crimes, including murders.

The state of emergency covers the three parishes of St James, which includes Montego Bay (above), and Hanover and Westmoreland, which include Negril.

Prime Minister Andrew Holness announced the declaration at a media briefing at Jamaica House on Tuesday morning.

"After careful consideration and review of the crime statistics, in particular violent crimes which have been committed in south western parishes, the security forces have advised that the situation which now currently exists would warrant the Government advising the Governor General to proclaim a state of public emergency," Holness said.

Since the start of this year, there have been 29 murders in Westmoreland, 27 in St James and 18 in Hanover.

The Jamaica Hotel and Tourist Association (JHTA) told the Jamaica Observer news outlet that while its membership would have preferred not to have to deal with the negative publicity that an SOE will cause in the tourism market, particularly in the UK, the USA and Canada, they 'fully understand that this action has been precipitated by the return of an unacceptable level of shootings and murders in western Jamaica'.

"To that end, the JHTA puts its full support behind the Government in its efforts to bring this unacceptable state of affairs under control," the association said, while urging the Government and Opposition to 'put aside all unnecessary politics and work together so that this initiative, along with other anti-crime measures, will be successful'.

The Foreign Office warned visitors that the special measures could lead to curfews, road closures and travel delays.

The SOE will remain in place for 14 days initially. After that it needs a two-thirds majority in both the House of Representatives and the Senate, for it to be extended for three months at a time.

Holness told the media briefing that he had spoken to the parliamentary Opposition prior to the latest declaration of a SOE and he was hoping for the Opposition's support, although this isn't guaranteed.

The state of emergency will allow the military to support police in joint security operations. They have been used before in Jamaica, with the last declared in St James in January 2018, which was credited with a 70% reduction in murders in the parish during 2018 compared to 2017 when 335 people were killed.

SOEs were also imposed in St Catherine North and sections of the Corporate Area in March and September last year respectively.

More than 40 people have been murdered in St James since the start of the year and the Mayor of Montego Bay, Homer Davis, and business leaders have on several occasions, called for the re-imposition of the emergency measure.

However, the Opposition pulled its support for SOEs, as it said relatively few violence offenders were caught.

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