Islands warn `bully' Britain

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CARIBBEAN LEADERS have criticised what they consider Britain's "bullying tactics" in trying to persuade them to abolish the death penalty. They reportedly warned Whitehall against "further interference" in a White Paper on Britain's dependent territories due to be published later this month.

At a closed-door summit meeting in the former Dutch colony of Surinam, nine Caribbean government chiefs backed executions as a necessary deterrent to a surging wave of mostly drug-related crime crime on the islands, sources said. Polls show the death penalty is highly popular throughout the Caribbean.

The leaders at the summit approved plans to set up a new Caribbean Supreme Court to bypass Britain's Privy Council, which retains overall juridical power in most countries of the region including those long independent. The court could be in place by the end of the year, summit sources said.

The leaders criticised the Privy Council for blocking several executions. In the former British Caribbean colonies alone - with a population of 5 million - there are about 250 prisoners on death row.

Seven nations - Trinidad, Jamaica, Haiti, St Kitts and Nevis, Barbados, Guyana and Surinam - threatened to pull out of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, which has also blocked executions in the region after prisoners appealed.

The US dispute with Europe over bananas was threatening the economies of several islands, turning more and more farmers towards drug cultivation or trafficking. That was putting more drugs on the streets of the islands, adding to the upward spiral of crime, they said.