Elections Watch

Stabroek News
March 23, 2001

East Coast villagers battle police after fracas with elections staff

By Andrew Richards

A six-mile area along the East Coast Demerara was turned into a battle zone yesterday as police and villagers clashed following a mid-morning incident involving Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) staff at Buxton.

At least eight civilians and two police ranks were injured during the stand-off between the two sides which continued as night fell.

Hundreds of residents of the East Coast were left stranded in Georgetown as villagers set fires in several areas across the public road along the six-mile stretch from Buxton to Golden Grove.

Even more trapped within their villages afraid to venture onto the main thoroughfare.

Long lines of vehicles backed up along the road and many travelling eastwards turned back to Georgetown. Those making their way down to the city and which were caught east of Golden Grove could venture no further.

Police had to resort to tear smoke and pellets to disperse groups of villagers who had banded together at different points to light the fires.

Police Commissioner Laurie Lewis last night described the events at Buxton as unfortunate but said the situation was under control.

Lewis said the police ranks acted in a restrained manner for over an hour as they tried to talk to the people and urge them to return to their homes. As a result of trying to defuse the situation, one police officer's car was damaged when it was stoned by the crowd, he said.

The commissioner acknowledged that some persons were injured by pellets. Lewis appealed to the leaders of political parties to urge their supporters to desist from the sort of behaviour, which occurred yesterday. He also cautioned persons against contemplating such action.

The clashes were sparked off when two persons, who identified themselves at GECOM staff, showed up at Buxton and began collecting statements of poll pasted up outside a few polling stations at Bush Dam. GECOM had apparently wanted the statements for reconciliation of elections results.

According to reports, villagers became suspicious and began to question the men. As some of the villagers started attacking them, the men retreated to the Buxton post office building for safety.

They were under siege for some time before police arrived and confronted the villagers. After about 45 minutes, they eventually dispersed the crowd and took the men away.

But this was not before the villagers pelted the police and broke a vehicle's windscreen in the process.

Lovern Thomas, a Buxtonian who lives at 28 Company Road, said all had quieted down in the village and villagers were going about their normal routine when there were shouts that the police were on their way.

The police returned in full battle gear, armed with tear smoke canisters and guns. Upon seeing this, the villagers began to block off the Line Top with old wood and other junk.

The police responded by firing tear smoke canisters and pellets into the crowd, made up mostly of young men, Thomas said. Three of these men were among the first set to be injured and were taken away to the hospital.

Some of the canisters fell into the yards of some homes and that was when the villagers began pelting the police, Thomas recalled. The police were pelted with bottles, stones, pieces of iron and anything the villagers could get their hands on.

By about 1400 hrs fires were lit at Friendship Line Top junction, Company Road Line Top junction, Annandale junction at the public road and Middle Walk junction at the public road.

The police had taken up positions at the Friendship end on the public road.

The commanding officer tried to disperse the crowd with a loud hailer and the police held up a banner which read "Disperse or we fire." The police then advanced firing tear smoke canisters steadily. A few went into yards and caused great distress to some children.

At 22 Public Road, Buxton, an angry Sharon Andries told Stabroek News that her three daughters aged two months, four years and eight years old, lost consciousness when tear smoke engulfed their yard. Her son had to take the girls to Buxton Front away from the crossfire. Wanda Adams, further down the road, said her niece bled through her nose and her son had difficulty breathing from the smoke. Pauline July, who has a shop in Buxton, said she ended up in a tub of water when they smoke invaded the premises.

Meanwhile, the villagers had retreated off the public road. They used the cover of the trees and buildings to hide from the police and resumed pelting them.

A makeshift firebomb aimed at the police ended up in a mango tree and had to be put out.

By this time, fires were being lit at Beterverwagting, Bachelors Adventure, Haslington and Golden Grove.

At 1630 hrs a convoy of four vehicles transporting members of the Target Special Force arrived on the scene.

Some of the vehicles locked in the traffic used the opportunity to pass through the path cleared by the police vehicles.

As dusk drew closer, the situation grew less tense as the villagers kept their distance. The heavy police presence began to impact and the situation was brought under some control.

But as a large number of police ranks made their way back towards Georgetown at around 2000 hrs, villagers at Golden Grove re-lit a huge fire at the public road entrance to President's College. Vehicles were pelted by an unruly mob stationed at that junction. Police arrived shortly afterwards and regained control.

A businessman who went to check on his businessplace at the same junction shortly afterwards said he was brutalised by the police. Abdul Wahid Wickham, 40, said he was coming out of the President's College road where he lived when he saw the police clearing up the debris at the junction. He said he indicated who he was to a police officer.

Instead of acting in a civil manner, Wickham said, the policeman let go a string of profanities and shoved him. Two others then approached and one cuffed him in his face and the other lashed him on his head with a baton, Wickham said. After he was beaten, a policeman recognised him and apologies were extended, the businessman said. Wickham went to the St Joseph Mercy Hospital where he received medical attention and will return today for an X-ray to his head.

The PPP/Civic issued a statement last evening condemning the unrest in the villages along East Coast Demerara. The party charged that the "lawlessness" was "centrally organised and directed to undermine peace and law and order in our society." The PPP/C called on the law enforcement agencies to ensure that law and order was maintained and to remain vigilant.

Eight injured in East Coast fracas

By Samantha Alleyne

Several persons were admitted to the Georgetown Hospital late yesterday evening with pellet wounds and other injuries, following unrest on the East Coast Demerara sparked by attempts to retrieve a statement of poll at Buxton. (See other story on page 1.)

The hospital was a hive of activity yesterday as vehicles transported the injured to the New Ambulatory Care Unit, with anxious relatives following in other vehicles. Police and security personnel at the hospital managed to control the small crowd as they vented anger at the happenings.

Those injured during the police force's attempt to control the situation were: Tyrone Gill, 22, of 71 Friendship, East Coast Demerara (ECD); Rawle Williams, 22, and Sydney Bevney, 37, both of Buxton, ECD; Holly-Ann Spencer of Nabaclis, ECD; Patricia Williams of Victoria, ECD; Coby Amos of 152 Victoria, ECD; Patrick Hinds, 19, of Golden Grove and Bernie James of Nabaclis.

James sustained no injuries from pellets but broke her arm when she fell while running from the police.

According to a friend of James, the woman was standing on her bridge when the police rushed into her yard claiming that they saw a boy run into her yard.

The woman quickly scampered upstairs, falling in the process, but managed to lock her door.

The friend claimed the policemen kicked down the woman's door breaking the screen of her television set in the process. They then ransacked her home, breaking the glass of her wardrobe, and after finding no one they left.

The woman, who was in obvious pain, was unable to speak to this newspaper.

Bevney told Stabroek News that he was riding his bicycle along the railway line when he felt a burning sensation on his back.

The man, who had pellet wounds in his hands, chest and underneath his left eye, said he was returning home from work when he saw the large crowd. According to him, he was not in the crowd but he was shot at by the police.

Gill and Williams were part of the crowd at Buxton when they were hit by the pellets. Gill was hit in his foot, while Williams sustained injuries to his hand. All three men were admitted to the hospital after x-rays were done.

Stabroek News was unable to speak to Spencer, but according to residents who gathered at the hospital, the woman was sitting on her front steps when she was hit by the flying pellets. She was hit on one of her breasts.

Patricia Williams, who is in her early teens, is the daughter of Corporal Williams attached to the Immigration Department. It was learnt that the woman was at work, when she received a call informing her about her daughter's injury.

Stabroek News understands that the teenager was in a yard when she was hit. It is not clear whether she was hit by pellets or bullets.

This newspaper understands that she was being removed from the yard along with other children as they were at home alone when she was shot.

When the child arrived at the hospital in a mini bus, Stabroek News noticed a gaping wound on one of her thighs and she was in severe pain. On seeing her daughter's wound, Corporal Williams started to weep uncontrollably and had to be consoled by her colleagues.

Amanda Williams, cousin of Amos, told this newspaper that her cousin was shot in his stomach. She did not know if the young man was in the crowd but she was informed that he was shot and assisted in transporting him to the hospital.

Hinds, said to be a technician, was on his way from work when he was he was hit by pellets.

Michael Moore, who is the cousin of Hinds, said that the police were firing the pellets wildly.

WPA activist beaten by mob outside

North Ruimveldt polling station

Was accused of being PPP/C elections agent

GAP/WPA activist Desmond Trotman was beaten and robbed by a mob of people outside a polling station in North Ruimveldt on elections night.

The unruly group, who accused him of being a PPP/Civic agent, took away $53,000, his wristwatch and finger ring.

Trotman told Stabroek News yesterday that the attack took place outside Polly's Nursery School where he had gone to pick up two female polling agents to transport them to their homes at around 0230 hrs. The school is located along the last entrance into North Ruimveldt at an intersection.

Trotman said he had gone to the polling station at 0100 hrs to collect the two agents but the ballots were still being counted and there was a large crowd outside.

When he arrived there the second time, the crowd had grown larger. Trotman said he had passed the polling station, turned around his vehicle and parked outside with the engine running.

He then placed a carton, which contained some remnants of snacks used by the polling staff, in the trunk.

A man and a woman from the crowd walked up to him and enquired what he was carrying. After he answered them they returned to the crowd.

Trotman said that shortly after, a group of about 30 persons descended upon him. Some had bottles in their hands and others had sticks, he said. Trotman said he heard shouts of, "Leh we see he face..." as persons began to manhandle him.

The mob also took away the box he had placed in the trunk and a container with soft drinks. In their haste to steal, one of the persons left behind a watch.

Trotman said he was wrestled to the ground and someone grabbed his spectacles from his face. The mob had gotten hold of his briefcase containing documents and when he saw this, Trotman forced his way off the ground and managed to retrieve it.

The party activist said the mob demanded to know what was in the briefcase and he had to give them a glimpse to convince them it was just papers.

Then, just as suddenly the attack had started, a man shouted that the man they were attacking could not be a PPP agent and Trotman was released. His spectacles were returned to him but he suffered a swollen finger.

There was a police rank present at the polling station but he was hopelessly outnumbered and Trotman said he understood why he could not go to his aid.

State media failed to live up to code

- EU, Long-Term observers

The Long-Term and EU Observer groups have concluded that the state media failed to live up to the Media Code of Conduct in their coverage of the elections.

Stabroek News was considered to have given "the most balanced coverage of the campaign out of all the media outlets observed."

In their preliminary joint report the Guyana Long-Term Observation Group and the European Union Election Observation Mission stated: "the media in Guyana remain largely unregulated and we are concerned that the code was ignored by some media outlets. Furthermore, moral suasion as a concept does not seem to have the power to deter wildly inaccurate commentary or biased reporting... it is notable that the publicly owned media which has a larger responsibility to the public than being the mouthpiece of any single administration, failed to live up to the standards they signed on to in the code.

"GTV news coverage was substantially biased in favour of the incumbent President, government and governing party." GBC was also seen to give biased and unbalanced coverage of the campaign and "the Chronicle coverage of events and news was biased in favour of the incumbent ...

"None of the talk shows on Channel 6, 9 or 69 offered their audience divergent views to those of the host and could be viewed more as one sided monologues. In the polarised atmosphere of the elections campaign the talk-show hosts traded unsubstantiated allegations as facts and rumours as the truth without making any attempt to check the information given. Such actions are extremely irresponsible and inflammatory."

Georgetown active in morning, quiet at noon

There was a lot more activity in and around Georgetown yesterday morning as compared to the last two days, but by noon the shutters were up again following the unrest on the East Coast of Demerara.

Checks at a few city schools revealed that parents were still keeping their children home and that some of these institutions closed half-day.

Even the stalls in the municipal markets were shut although the gates were open. The few brave hearts along Water and Regent streets that opened all week, closed by 1500 hrs as word of a problem at Buxton spread.

At Merriman Mall the quiet was loud. No vendor shouted bargains and no one was there to look for any. The general observation was that of people speaking in whispers and trying to get to their only known safe haven - home.

Traffic was also light for the third time in all the traditionally congested streets and the car parks sparse. Government places failed to attract employees and those who turned up for work returned home at lunch.

A check by Stabroek News showed that during last week, there was `panic shopping' by residents in and out of Georgetown in anticipation of post-elections problems.

In 1997, after the winner of that polls was announced, dissatisfied persons took to the streets and many businesses were broken into and looted. As such even before March 19, they threw up barricades and some have not opened for business since.