January 15, 2002

Trinidad's prime minister willing to meet opposition

                 PORT-OF-SPAIN, Trinidad (AP) -- Trinidad and Tobago's prime minister said
                 Tuesday he was willing to meet with his political rival to resolve an elections
                 deadlock, enabling the Parliament to convene.

                 Trinidad's Parliament has not met since the December 10 general elections, in
                 which the two main parties each won 18 seats in the 36-seat Parliament.

                 The new prime minister, Patrick Manning, said Tuesday that he would be willing to
                 meet with former Prime Minister Basdeo Panday or with negotiators from the
                 14-member Caribbean Community trade bloc, which has offered to negotiate a

                 Panday has said an interim government should manage the affairs of the oil-rich
                 Caribbean nation until a date can be agreed upon for new elections. Manning also
                 has supported new elections, but the two have failed to agree on how they would
                 divide power in the meantime.

                 Manning's comments on Tuesday echoed a statement made Monday to The
                 Express newspaper, in which he offered talks with Panday's United National
                 Congress party.

                 "We are willing to negotiate with the UNC in the interest of the country," Manning
                 was quoted as saying.

                 Both Panday and Manning said they were waiting for the other to initiate dialogue,
                 and have not yet agreed to a meeting.

                 "We should agree to interim arrangements pending fresh elections," Panday said late
                 Monday in Couva in central Trinidad.

                 On December 24, President Arthur N.R. Robinson, whose role is largely
                 ceremonial, chose Manning of the People's National Movement as the new leader to
                 resolve the elections deadlock -- a choice Panday decried as illegitimate and biased,
                 even though he had agreed to support the president's decision.

                 The standoff has left the Parliament unable to convene because legislators in
                 Panday's party have rejected Manning's candidates for Speaker of the House, and
                 Manning's party doesn't have the Parliament majority to approve a speaker on its

                 Without a speaker, Parliament cannot convene.

                 If it doesn't convene within four months of elections, some argue the law indicates
                 new elections must be called. It would be the Caribbean country's third general
                 elections since December 2000.

                 The election raised tensions between Trinidadians of African and East Indian
                 descent, who each account for about 40 percent of the population of 1.3 million.
                 Supporters of Panday's United National Congress party tend to be largely
                 Indo-Trinidadian, while Manning's party is backed mostly by Afro-Trinidadians.

                  Copyright 2002 The Associated Press.