Mini-bus burnt in protests outside Congress Place

Guyana Chronicle
April 25, 2001

A MINI-BUS was overturned and burnt and two other vehicles damaged as protests by supporters of the main Opposition People's National Congress Reform (PNC/R) flared yesterday outside the party's Congress Place headquarters following a shooting incident there Monday night.

Police said the group of persons disrupted the peace and tranquility of the Prashad Nagar and Sophia areas in the eastern part of the city.

The protesters placed barricades at the entrance to the Sophia Squatting Area, Dennis Street and on the Eastern Highway as supporters who stationed themselves in the Congress Place compound and its immediate environs, claimed they were securing the premises.

The PNC/R reported that about 23:00 hrs (11 p.m.) Monday, an incendiary device was hurled over the southeastern fence of Congress Place towards one of the buildings in the compound and erupted in flames which started a fire.

It said security personnel in a building nearby rushed to extinguish the fire but came under heavy gunfire from at least three different points on the southern road outside of Congress Place.

ONE the road blocks on Ganges Street yesterday. During the incident, the PNC/R flashed messages on Channel Nine saying Congress Place was under attack from unknown gunmen and urged supporters to go out and lend support.

Hundreds of PNC/R supporters remained at the party headquarters up to late yesterday afternoon and had set up barricades to prevent the flow of traffic in the area.

During this blockade, motor vehicles came under attack by persons in the area and one mini-bus, BGG 6169, was overturned before it was set alight by a group of persons.

A truck, GGG 9449, transporting wood was also attacked and a flambeau was reportedly thrown into the vehicle.

However, the flames were quickly put out by police who were in the area.

A vehicle, GEE 4989, belonging to the Demerara Distillers Limited beverage company was attacked and some of its contents, including some five gallon bottles containing water, and tinned products were removed from the vehicle and spewed over the road.

The front windscreen was completely destroyed and goods in excess of $200,000 stolen, police said.

During this incident, protesters shouted for others to overturn the vehicle but quickly dispersed when armed police ranks approached.

They ran into Congress Place and someone shouted orders for the gate to be shut.

A vehicle belonging to the Guyana Power and Light company (GPL) was stoned in Prashad Nagar resulting in the complete damage to its front windscreen, police reported.

Police officers were deployed to maintain order in the area and were engaged in some minor confrontations with the PNC/R supporters as the cops tried to remove the barriers.

A bottle bomb was thrown at an officer and a party of policemen as they were in the process of removing another blockage at Omai Street. The bomb exploded but no one was injured, police said.

The barricades were eventually removed and thrown them into a nearby trench but a few hours later, a fiery road block was placed at the entrance to the Sophia Squatting Area and the burnt mini-bus placed across the road leading to Congress Place.

Owner of the mini-bus, Mr Brian Austin, called `Tyson', said his bus was operating the Kitty/Campbellville (Route 40).

He said the vehicle was bought about three years ago for some $2.3M.

The driver of the bus, Mr Lallbachan Ramnaraine, 26, and the conductor were on their way to Sophia with about nine passengers when trouble began.

Ramnaraine recalled that he was at the junction of Omai and Ganges streets, Prashad Nagar, caught in the line of traffic since the road was blocked.

He said a group of persons approached him after a stone was placed in front the vehicle and tried to drag him from the driver's seat.

The bus came under attack and the door unhinged, he said and he and passengers were robbed. The conductor said he also lost $4,500.

Ramnaraine said he escaped a beating since he appealed to a woman who advanced towards him with a piece of wood, telling her that he lives in Sophia and plays a part in the `struggle'.

He said he was allowed to go after he was dragged from the vehicle which was then overturned and set alight. No one was injured during the incident.

Motor vehicles were prevented from getting close to Congress Place and persons were forced to walk past the barriers to join vehicles working within the Sophia area since they were not allowed out.

In a statement yesterday, the PNC/R said the gunfire the night before was a serious act of provocation.

It said the rapid nature of the gunfire suggested that automatic weapons were being used and security personnel had to seek shelter.

Hundreds of supporters converged at the party headquarters in response to the reported gunfire attack on the premises and a call for them to lend support.

The alleged attack reportedly came from the occupants of two vehicles, a white pick-up and a white car and took place between 23:00 and 23:30 hrs.

A resident said he was home when he heard about six shots being fired.

He said the shots were first single then increased to what sounded like automatic gunfire and came from the southeast, in the vicinity of Dennis Street.

Not long after, he said there was return gunfire, but this time coming from within the PNC/R compound.

He said that within minutes, a white car sped past and as it did more gunshots and a loud boom were heard coming from the direction of the car.

According to the eyewitness, the `Black Clothes' police arrived on the scene about 15 minutes later and called on the PNC/R security at the main entrance to "Come to the gate".

The response was that they (security) were under fire from persons unknown, he said.

Failing to get the PNC/R security to advance to the gate, the witness said he overheard the police receiving instructions to "back off" and they left shortly after.

PNC/R member, Mr Raphael Trotman who was at the PNC/R headquarters after the incident, said he overheard the gunfire from his home and went to Congress Place where he learnt that an incendiary device was hurled aback of the compound which started a fire.

However, when security members went to investigate and put out the blaze they were fired upon by occupants of a vehicle which was parked on the main Sophia access roadway, he said.

He said he was also told of shots coming from another vehicle which was at the front of the compound.

The PNC/R said senior functionaries of the "Black Clothes" with other ranks assembled at the entrance of the compound while sporadic shooting was continuing.

They later withdrew in the vicinity of the mosque not far away and at around 12:30 a.m. the `Black Clothes' squad withdrew from the scene, the party said.

PNC/R Reform General Secretary, Mr Oscar Clarke, who had left Congress Place only minutes before the shooting, was contacted at home by a senior police officer who informed him that there was shooting at Congress Place, the statement said.

Clarke undertook to investigate the matter and later informed the officer that the party headquarters was under sporadic gunfire, that the presence of the `Black Clothes' squad in the midst of the gunfire was creating confusion, as the party's security was unable to determine who the perpetrators were, the statement said.

The police later withdrew and the firing stopped, it said.

A police official yesterday said they were awaiting a report from the PNC/R about the incident.

Police said they were monitoring the situation and maintaining patrols in the area.