East Coast houses stoned, villagers beaten, robbed
- city calm during yesterday

Guyana Chronicle
April 12, 2001

RESIDENTS of Clonbrook, East Coast Demerara yesterday expressed concern about recent attacks on innocent citizens and attempts by groups of anti-government protesters at several villages to stop the flow of traffic along the coast.

Though the area was calmer yesterday, they said they feared for their lives, especially after several homes in the village were stoned on Tuesday.

Persons also prevented vehicles from passing the adjoining village, Ann's Grove.

The residents appealed for a bigger Police presence, saying they feel threatened by protesters who set fire to rubbish to block roads at Ann's Grove.

Protesters in several other villages were engaged in the practice over the past few days and there were reports that persons were being beaten and robbed during the ordeals.

Persons had to walk miles to get to their final destinations and motor vehicles were forced to turn around and head in the direction from which they came.

At Clonbrook/Greenfield, there were complaints that houses were stoned Tuesday and persons threatened by those who professed to having guns in their possession.

An abandoned post office that served both Clonbrook and Ann's Grove was also set on fire, which was immediately put out by Police ranks. Two officers were injured when a stairway collapsed, Police said.

Residents said the protesters also threatened to burn the bridge on the Greenfield public road.

One resident said during the hold-up of traffic at Ann's Grove, persons with criminal intentions also used the opportunity to rob persons, and vehicle operators who could not, or did not want to hand over money, were not allowed to pass.

He said farmers and vendors are unable to continue their day-to-day activities especially those who sell their produce at markets in other areas since they are fearful of being attacked during their journey.

One woman said she has perishable goods but does not want to take the chance to leave home since she might not be able to get back.

Like others, she is fearful of what might transpire after the two-day Secondary School Entrance Examinations, which conclude today.

The woman said persons commented that after the exams "there will be trouble".

Meanwhile, the situation in the capital remained calm up to late yesterday afternoon and though several stores and stalls in the Stabroek and Bourda municipal markets remained closed, many people were out to conduct their normal business during the day.

Police said the day was incident free.

Many business places remained barred or were partially open and business people complained that once again they are being affected.

One man said he is not doing brisk business but has to open his store because he "got to eat".

He said the shoppers are absent and blamed the People's National Congress Reform (PNC/R) for the reduction of business activities in the city.

He said the party's supporters are driving fear into citizens and people are not coming out to shop as usual.

A large number of PNC/R supporters on Tuesday marched through the streets of Georgetown chanting that several officials, including President Bharrat Jagdeo, be removed from office.

And though their protest was peaceful, Police reported that after the march, groups of persons attacked and robbed others in the vicinity of the Stabroek Market.

The PNC/R last night began a vigil at the 1763 Monument Square using flambeaus as part of their continuing anti-government protest.

President offers to help Regent Street fire victims warns criminals will face full force of the law

PRESIDENT Bharrat Jagdeo yesterday visited the city business sites destroyed by fire on Monday, expressing shock and sadness at what he saw and offering to help those who suffered billions of dollars in losses.

However, he feels that the opposition People's National Congress/Reform (PNC/R) should come out and strongly condemn what happened or behave in a way that does not promote such activities.

President Jagdeo also expressed concern about the opposition party's stated intention of intensifying its campaign from one of 'slow fire' to 'more fire' and "crazy" talk show hosts going on about "burning down Georgetown".

He alluded to the vigil held last night by the PNC/R, calling it "the height of irresponsibility", noting that they were calling for the use of flambeaus.

"It's the height of irresponsibility. I think that they must understand that the people of this country want to move on and want to address the issues that concern them most," President Jagdeo stated.

He noted that ever since he was appointed President in 1999 and now he has been re-elected to office, he has always genuinely wanted dialogue.

"But it doesn't come from pressure, and those who know me will know that...it will not happen by creating havoc and mayhem in the streets," Mr. Jagdeo reiterated.

Warning that he was not going to be intimidated, the President said: "...if someone feels that by doing this, they would find the PPP or me succumbing to pressure, well they're wrong."

After hearing from some of the affected businessmen and making a cursory assessment of the destruction, Mr. Jagdeo promised that some time after the country settles down, he would meet with those who suffered.

This will be with a view to seeing what help the government could give towards reconstruction and to ensure those who lost jobs can become employed once more.

He said the devastation affected not only businessmen but the approximately 2,000 to 3,000 workers, clerical, sales persons, manufacturers, etc., of all races and political persuasion.

The President said the fire caused tremendous loss to the country.

He commended the Guyana Fire Service and Police Force for prompt action and tremendous efforts in containing the fire and maintaining law and order at the scene, noting that it could have been worse. "... It could have been half of Georgetown," he commented.

Responding to a question about beefing up the resources of the Fire Service, the President said that the equipment available to the Police Force and Fire Service has been increased tremendously and they are in a much better position than they were five years ago.

"But we are still a poor country, and we have limitations," he added.

And referring to a statement by Managing Director of the Kissoon's Group of Companies, Mr. Hemraj Kissoon that a fire had been set at one of their smaller buildings just across the road from the now burnt site of the main furniture store, President Jagdeo said, "From what I've heard here today, I don't think many of you would doubt what the reason of the fire is...you've heard it from various people."

Monday's fire started at the A.H & L Kissoon building at the corner of Robb and Camp streets. Witnesses said it was deliberately set when burning objects were thrown into the building.

The blaze subsequently swept through a block of stores.

The President also strongly condemned the "bands of criminals" terrorising people and robbing them in the streets and said that the full force of the law will come down on them.

He said that while he is "all for" and would respect people's rights to peacefully protest, it must be peacefully done.

"If a political protest is peacefully done, people have a right to do that, but not to cause havoc, and to attack and beat up. Those are criminals, and the full force of the law will come down on them."

President Jagdeo said he's already spoken to the Police and Army and hopes that when the forces come down tough on such persons, others would not refer to it as "Police brutality". He noted that the Police have to deal with the criminals, using the language that they understand.

He said he is aware that it is very difficult for the Police to deal with such a situation, since invariably the persons break up into small groups and run off in different directions.

The President also feels the judiciary needs to do more in terms of dealing with such offenders.

He referred to some complaints made by the Police, adding: "I saw some really crazy things happening...The Police take people off the streets, and then minutes later, because of the judiciary, they are back on the streets, and I think it's wrong."

In this regard, he said: "The judiciary has not supported the Police Force.

"You need to keep these people off the streets", the President declared. (SHIRLEY THOMAS)