Blair signals his opposition to softer line on drugs during Jamaican visit

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Indy Politics

Tony Blair indicated his opposition to any relaxation of the law on drugs yesterday, the day he arrived in Jamaica to discuss ways of reducing drug-related crime.

Despite recent signs within the Government of a willingness to debate the decriminalisation of cannabis, Mr Blair was said to have told friends yesterday that he is firmly against any liberalisation of Britain's drugs laws.

During his one-day visit to Jamaica, Mr Blair held talks with the Prime Minister, P J Patterson, and announced a new £200,000 aid package to train Jamaican police in the latest forensic techniques, to help try to secure convictions against leaders of the island's violent drug gangs.

Mr Blair said that the violent activities of these groups were also causing growing concern in Britain, where 30 murders had been linked to Caribbean gangs. Most of the killings have taken place in London, where the Metropolitan Police has a special unit to deal with gun crimes within the African-Caribbean community.

Security was tight for Mr Blair after several weeks of unrest during which more than 30 people have been killed in politically-motivated violence between gangs and police.

Baroness Amos, a Foreign Office minister who is accompanying Mr Blair, said: "There is a big concern about the violence in Jamaica, and we are also concerned about some of the knock-on of that into the United Kingdom." Half of the cocaine in Britain and the United States is thought to have come through the Caribbean.

MPs from the three main parties have joined a recent groundswell of support for a change in the law on drugs. David Blunkett, the Home Secretary, has called for an "adult, intelligent debate" on the issue and the House of Commons' home affairs select committee launched an inquiry into the issue last week.

After his meeting with Mr Patterson yesterday, Mr Blair said the two countries must step up their efforts against drugs. He said: "We really have to strengthen not just our trade and investment but policing and law enforcement, so that we can tackle this evil trade that does so much damage here and in the United Kingdom and in the rest of the world."

Jamaica has a history of gang violence dating from the 1970s when the gangs were used to threaten and cajole voters on behalf of the country's two main political parties. Many of the gang members are now involved mainly in drug trafficking, but some are still involved in bloody feuds with their former political enemies.

The visit to Jamaica, the first by a British prime minister since 1987, is the first leg of a tour of Latin America and the Caribbean, which will include a historic stop in Argentina.

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