Unrest disrupts city calm

Guyana Chronicle
March 27, 2001

AS THE capital city was returning to normalcy yesterday after it had lost its usual bustle in the aftermath of the elections last week Monday, store owners raced to slam their doors shut when protesters went on a rampage through the streets in the afternoon.

Shoppers and other citizens hurriedly joined vehicles to get out of harm's way as hundreds of persons supporting the People's National Congress Reform (PNC/R) took to the streets after dispersing from around the High Court building.

The protesters, some carrying portraits of party leader, Mr Desmond Hoyte, had gathered for the hearing of the PNC/R legal challenge to the swearing-in of President Bharrat Jagdeo whose PPP/C won the March 19 elections.

The hearing before Chief Justice Desiree Bernard was adjourned to today.

Some among the protesters on the move on the streets after used the opportunity to loot and threaten passersby and several were beaten and robbed, police confirmed.

Some passing vehicles were also smashed and several mini-bus drivers refused to head near the regular car parks, dropping passengers away from where the crowds gathered.

The Esso gas station on Regent Street was attacked by a section of the crowd but swift action by workers secured the premises.

Several business places around the city had remained closed last week after unrest on the East Coast Demerara by PNC/R supporters following the results of the elections.

Police last week used tear gas and fired pellets to disperse protesters who set up barricades and burned tyres on roads to stop the flow of traffic.

Four men were wounded by pellets. Barriers were erected on buildings around the city and there were hardly any signs of activity during the past week since many were afraid to leave their homes, fearing they will be caught up in the unrest, and may not be able to get back.

Even schools reported a low attendance rate which officials said would definitely affect students, especially those preparing for the Secondary Schools Entrance Examination next month and the end of the Easter term examinations.

But earlier yesterday, the city was relatively calm and people were carrying out their normal shopping.

There was the usual hustle and bustle on Regent Street and markets in the city though vendors still complained that they are not doing brisk business.

Persons had even commented that there will be no cause for fear since the people around the court were protesting peacefully and that the city was getting back to normal.

But up to late yesterday afternoon, police were using tear gas and firing pellets to disperse the crowds around the area of the South Georgetown mini-bus park and the Supreme and Magistrates courts.

Staff of the Supreme Court were seen in the building late yesterday afternoon.

Large crowds had stationed themselves around the Supreme Court earlier in the day to hear the outcome of the case.

They were reportedly joined by other protesters who were moving along Regent Street before the adjournment of the court hearing.

Just after 14:00 hrs, they began running around the court before detaching themselves into smaller groups and moving through the streets.

But by this time, word had clearly spread to the business places that the groups were on the move and within minutes, stores were tightly shut.

Employees could be seen peeping through the barriers of stores and one store owner on Regent Street hurriedly drove his car into his business place before barring the doors.

Calm prevailed for a while as people hurried from the city streets to give way to the crowds but a few hours later the groups were in more intense confrontation with the police.

Some moved towards the PPP/C Freedom House headquarters but police were everywhere.

Tear gas and pellets were shot to disperse the crowds which were disrupted for a while before they regrouped and retaliated by pelting the police ranks with stones.

Barriers placed at the entrances to some roads earlier in the day were also thrown into nearby canals by the bands.

As the standoff continued, mini-buses were forced to leave the parks, especially the South Georgetown car park.

This angered many workers who tried to get transportation home but found the park empty.

Traffic was also diverted as police ranks tried to guide vehicles through other streets.

More patrol vehicles and `black clothes' officers were dispatched to handle the situation and keep the crowds at bay but some groups stood their ground.

A garbage fire was later set in the vicinity of the Berbice car park but this was soon put out by police ranks.

Unrest began on the East Coast last week where several bridges along the recently built road along the old railway embankment were destroyed and makeshift barriers used to stop the flow of traffic.

The violence had continued in several East Coast villages and several persons were injured following an incident at Buxton.

CARICOM mission says elections transparent, outcome fair

THE Caribbean Community (CARICOM) mission which observed the March 19 national elections says the process was transparent and the outcome fair.

A statement released yesterday said:

"...the (observer) mission agrees that the electoral process was conducted in an atmosphere free of intimidation or fear and was transparent and that therefore the outcome of the elections would be fair."

International and local observer missions have also hailed the process as fair and open and generally meeting international standards set for elections.

The CARICOM assessment was issued by Dr Kenny Anthony, Prime Minister of Saint Lucia and CARICOM head of government with lead responsibility for justice and governance.

Anthony said the mission reported that in preparing to observe the elections, it held discussions with all stakeholders on the electoral process and apprised itself of the technical preparations for the elections.

"The mission is of the view that a genuine effort was made by the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) to hold elections that were free, fair and transparent. A serious commitment to a fair electoral process was evident."

He said the mission "regrets however that continuing difficulties with the Official List of Electors (OLE) resulted in the disenfranchisement of some eligible electors. Members of the mission met a number of persons who held proof of registration, but were not able to vote because their names were not on the OLE."

"The extent of these omissions could not be quantified. It is important that the shortcomings of the registration system be resolved to avoid a recurrence of such occurrences", he said.

These problems have affected several parties and President Bharrat Jagdeo Friday said he expects the independent GECOM would provide some answers to the electorate.

Anthony said that on Elections Day, the CARICOM mission visited more than 200 polling stations in Regions Four, Five, Six, and 10.

A few minor irregularities were reported, such as the late opening of some polling stations due to a lack of materials or security, he said.

"However, taken as a whole, the teams agreed that the poll was orderly, transparent and in compliance with established procedures."

Anthony added that the mission was, however, disappointed that after an admirable electoral process during the day, considerable confusion was created at 18:00 hrs, precisely at the close of polls, with an announcement from the GECOM that the polls should remain open.

"Word of the extended opening was conveyed to the Presiding Officers in most instances in a very informal manner and after the ballot boxes had been already closed. This created a sense of uncertainty among poll staff which eventually translated into inconsistencies in the closing of the poll", the team found.

"However, the mission agrees that the electoral process was conducted in an atmosphere free of intimidation or fear and was transparent and that therefore the outcome of the elections would be fair", it said.

The CARICOM team noted the disorder in several areas along the East Coast of Demerara last week and suggested that "reconciliation between the two major political parties was necessary in the interest of the future governance of Guyana and its people."

Other observer teams have made similar points.

The mission was established by CARICOM, following a request by the President of Guyana that CARICOM monitor the elections, held in accordance with agreements reached under the Herdmanston Accord CARICOM brokered in January 1998 between the governing People's Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) and the main opposition People's National Congress Reform (PNC/R).

The accord was reached amid violence and rising tension from street demonstrations in Georgetown by the PNC after the PPP/C won the December 15, 1997 elections.

The CARICOM mission was led by Mr Carl Rattray, OJ, QC, former President of the Court of Appeal of Jamaica.

He was assisted by Mr. J. Mc Clair Daniel, Chief Elections Officer of Saint Lucia.

The mission included eight observers drawn from Antigua and Barbuda, The Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Jamaica, St. Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia and Trinidad and Tobago.