URGENT Leader Taken Captive in Coup Attempt Reportedly Agrees to Resign
PORT-OF-SPAIN, Trinidad (AP) _ Prime Minister Arthur Robinson has struck a deal with black Moslem extremists holding him hostage in a coup attempt, agreeing to resign and call new elections, a fellow captive said Sunday.
Robinson apparently made the deal as he and other government officials remained wired to explosives and threatened with death. The coup attempt began Friday and has reportedly left at least 22 people dead.
Abu Bakr, the leader of the Moselm sect that launched the coup attempt, was holding Robinson and about 40 other hostages in the Parliament building, known as the Red House, and buildings housing a radio and a television station.
Scattered shooting was reported on the island early Sunday as the talks were under way on the Caribbean island nation located north of Venezuela.
Bakr, a former policeman in his mid-40s, heads a group of about 250 black Moslems called Jamaat al-Muslimeen, Arabic for the Moslem Group. Although Bakr has claimed in radio interviews that Robinson’s government is corrupt and undemocratic, his specific motives for the coup attempt remain unclear.
Some reports have said his group, whose members come from the nation’s small Moslem minority, has been funded by Libya.
Jones Madeira, director of the government television station, said in a telephone interview that Robinson has agreed to turn over power to an interim government that will rule until elections are held in three months. The next elections had been scheduled for next year.
Madeira said the negotiations involving Robinson and other government officials were being held at the Red House and that negotiators were also trying to work out the terms of an amnesty demanded by the Moslems radicals.
An earlier report on government radio had said the rebels were demanding a plane that would fly them to Libya.
Madeira said he and 30 other employees were being held at the television station and that 10 other captives were at Radio Trinidad in an adjoining building. He said he had heard no gunfire nearby since Saturday evening.
The television station is several miles northwest of Red House.
″My information is that Prime Minister Robinson has agreed to step down and that an interim government of major political parties will run the country until elections are held in 90 days,″ he said.
When the coup attempt began Friday, rebels armed with automatic weapons stormed the Parliament building, taking Robinson and other officials hostage.
The acting president, Joseph Emmanuel Carter, put the 5,000-member army and 1,500-member police force on alert. President Noor Hassanali was in London.
A spokeswoman for President Bush, who was in Kennebunkport, Maine, said he was ″following the situation carefully″ and that American citizens and tourists on Trinidad and Tobago did not appear to be in danger.
On Saturday, Roman Catholic Archbishop Anthony Pantin negotiated with Bakr at the television station. Afterward, Pantin quoted Bakr as saying the prime minister and the hostages at the Parliament building ″are wired up with explosives.″ Pantin said the rebels threatened to blow up the captives if government troops move on the building.
The Caribbean News Agency, quoting police and hospital sources, said on Saturday that at least 22 people have died in fighting since the coup attempt began, but exactly where the fighting occurred remained unclear.
Trinidad and Tobago, which gained independence from Britain in 1962, is mostly a Hindu and Christian nation of 1.3 million people. About 6 percent of the population is Moslem, while those of East Indian and African descent each make up 40 percent of the population.