Gangs unleash terror in city

Guyana Chronicle
June 17, 1999

DOWNTOWN Georgetown was reported quiet last night after armed criminal gangs went on a rampage attacking and robbing vendors and others in city markets and streets.

Police Commissioner, Mr. Laurie Lewis, told the Chronicle

"criminal elements" were on the streets and he appealed to the public to help the Police in the battle to restore law and order.

"If you do not have business in town, go home. This is no time for loitering around", he advised.

Lewis said the criminal groups "are taking advantage of the (strike) situation here and the platform presented by people who are demonstrating and protesting and are indulging in criminal activities."

He said Police were maintaining day and night patrols.

Government employees supporting the strike called by the Guyana Public Service Union (GPSU) for a 40 per cent pay hike this year, continued demonstrating around the Supreme Court, the General Post Office and the Georgetown Hospital yesterday but Police said there were no incidents at these protests.

Police said groups using the GPSU strike "as a platform for criminal activities" looted stalls in the Stabroek, Bourda and La Penitence markets, attacked and robbed persons around the market areas and assaulted others.

A Police statement said these gangs which moved around on bicycles and on foot "have been identified as being associated with previous protests and (are) not public servants."

Seven persons were arrested for larceny and attempting to commit a felony and will be charged, Police reported.

Eyewitnesses said about 20 men rushed into the Stabroek Market, robbing vendors and assaulting at least two members of staff of the market's Revenue Department.

A vendor selling outside the market told the Chronicle that when the bell rang at about 13:00 hours for the usual Wednesday half-day closing time, between 15 and 20 "boys" swept inside, robbing sellers and assaulting people.

An employee of the Revenue Department said she was in the office when a set of young men, armed with long knives, ran through the market and into the `fish bay'.

She said another staff member was forced against a stall, a knife put to her neck, and her clothes torn down.

"The female worker was in the market, they chucked her and pull her clothes," she related.

A market official told the Chronicle that although the men did not rob the staff member, "their intention was to rob her".

He said a male employee was trying to close a main gate to the market but the gang squeezed his neck, punched and pushed him away and ran inside.

"The few people that were in the market tried to lock up their stalls quickly", he said.

The official said although there "may have been people (vendors) robbed...the department received no reports (since) persons were thinking about getting away quickly."

He said vendors were terrorised since earlier in the week and because of the situation in Georgetown, some stallholders decided not to work yesterday, since the market was open half day on Wednesdays.

Shortly after the gang invasion at the Stabroek Market, another band of about 20 young men rushed through the La Penitence Market and robbed vendors there too.

Sellers there hurriedly shut down their stalls.

Vendors told the Chronicle that some well-dressed young men ran through the market, sprayed mace in their faces and ripped off their aprons containing cash.

One vendor, Shirley, said she was sitting in a chair with her baby when the mob moved towards her spraying the harmful substance which burns the eyes and causes serious discomfort.

She said she was dragged out of the chair and had to hold on to her baby since the men were trying to hurt him also. The attackers sprayed the mace in her face and in the face of her 19-month-old baby, she said.

The mother said her skirt was torn and the robbers pulled away her apron, with more than $20,000 in the pockets. She said the money was to pay a debt.

Two other vendors, Nadira Narine and Bobby Babooram, selling around the same area, reported that they too were robbed of their aprons with more than $5,000 in cash.

"They spray the (mace) on all ah we (of us)," one complained.

The victims said the sprayed mace confused them and they could not identify the looters.

One said that before they were attacked, she saw a young man on a `dray' cart spinning a long knife and chanting "Yeah! Yeah! Yeah!"

Another eyewitness told the Chronicle some men were on the other side of the road while others barged into the market wreaking terror.

A City Constable said a man standing in front of the market awaiting transportation to Georgetown was robbed by the armed gang, some of them biting a gold ring off a finger, and taking away a gold band.

The Chronicle was told that people at the market panicked and ran in all directions when the mob attacked.

Police arrived at the scene minutes later and took away a pair of gloves eyewitnesses said was left on a stall by one of the armed men.

And vendors on the mall between North Road and Church Street were robbed by a mob of between 30 and 40 young men.

One victim, whose stall is in the middle of the mall, told the Chronicle that at around 12:30 hours, she was tending to a customer when she saw bands of boys running through the place.

She said a few stopped at her stall and one picked up her scale, while another snatched her apron with money from her waist.

"They also carry away my travelling bag with clothes", the angry seller recounted.

Another vendor said one of the robbers also held on to her apron, trying to steal it.

But a man who owns a stand opposite hers, threatened him with a cutlass and he ran away, she said.

Another gang member who stole a pineapple from her stall, immediately dropped it and fled with his companions.

By 11:30 hours yesterday, almost all the stores on Regent Street were closed and at the few still open, store owners were putting security measures in place.

Police said public transportation was disrupted as some mini-buses did not work.

Bomb scares were reported at the Culture, Youth and Sports Ministry, the St. Ambrose School and City Hall, Police said.

Police bomb squads searched the buildings and found nothing, Police said.

Yesterday's gang raids followed Tuesday's violent protests during which mobs stoned stores, set garbage fires on streets and hurled missiles at Police patrols.

Police used teargas to disperse groups during Tuesday's demonstrations.

General Manager of the Sears store on Regent Street, Mr. Sasenarine Sharma, said the building was stoned at around 19:00 hours Tuesday, by a crowd at Regent and Alexander streets.

He said 10 glass windows at the front and side of the five-storey building were broken.

The windows were specially imported for the store and cost more than $2M.

Sharma said steel plates were put up to protect the glass windows two weeks ago, but some were not covered.

He said he did not expect persons to throw missiles to the fourth and fifth floors of the store.

The situation was really bad and "this is bad for our (Guyana's) image and our name."

"If this continues I don't know what Sears will do," he said, referring to the American parent company of the firm.

Sharma said the GPSU strike has affected his company, since "business has been poor".

The store was using a skeleton staff, since there was not much to be done and some workers were sent on leave, he said.

Bhena's Footwear on Regent Street and Mohamed's store on Lombard Street were also attacked by gangs Tuesday night and were yesterday being boarded up for protection.

Police said an explosive device thrown at Bhena's Tuesday night appeared to be a hand grenade and the explosion damaged the main door and glass panels.

The Guyana Bank for Trade and Industry (GBTI) said there was minor damage to its Regent Street branch from the explosion at the store.

A press release from the bank said shrapnel from the explosion apparently flew across the street and damaged the glass front of the building.

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