PNC REFORM leads peaceful march around city

Guyana Chronicle
March 29, 2001

Demonstrators yesterday pulled off a peaceful and incident-free march through the streets of downtown Georgetown, unlike the last few days' protests, which had been characterised by violence.

The march occurred while the hearing into the application to stay President Bharrat Jagdeo's swearing in, winded down at the High Court.

Led by PNC Chairman Robert Corbin, Reform Chairman Jerome Khan, and PNC/R candidates Vincent Alexander and Dr Phillip Thomas, the march kicked off at 1215 hrs from the Avenue of the Republic, outside the Magistrates' Court.

Taking no chances, storeowners in Regent Street slammed their doors shut quickly as word spread through the shopping district.

Two large banners stating, 'March against disenfranchisement, discrimination, police brutality and for equal opportunity' were displayed prominently by the group. Another banner read 'GECOM tell us why we could not vote'.

The march proceeded along Brickdam, Camp Street, North Road, Avenue of the Republic, Main Street, Lamaha Street, Main Street and back to the point of assembly at 1330 hrs.

An unemployed woman among the gathering said she was motivated to join protesters since last Monday because she had worked at the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) during the recent elections and was disappointed with the way the electoral process was managed.

She explained that she assisted in the distribution of the national identification cards and worked on March 19 at a polling station in North Ruimveldt.

"People are frustrated. GECOM did not do a good job. After all that hard work a lot of people were still disenfranchised," she stated.

Claiming that a large number of positions filled at GECOM were done on a "favour-for-friend" basis, she opined that that led to the incompetence and the problems experienced.

The woman said she did not mind Jagdeo being the President but insisted that the government must show that it was an administration for all the people. "What has been happening in the past is that persons of one particular ethnic background have been given more opportunities to progress causing racial segregation," she claimed.

She lamented that she only had $140 in her pocket and did not know what she would be eating today.

Vacancies were hardly being advertised, she said, and the applications she sent out had all been met with a reply that there were no job openings.

Another protestor, who was recovering from pellet shots in his arms, told Stabroek News that he was willing to stand up for what he believed in. He said that he was not out there because of a party, but for the hundreds who were not given a chance to exercise their democratic right. Describing disenfranchisement as a shame, the 23-year-old multi-skilled man said that for the last few days, he had not worked and as such, was partly frustrated.

He stated that his struggle was against unemployment, racial discrimination, lies and "politricks".

Following their march, the demonstrators waited in the sweltering heat for some three and a half hours before PNC/R candidate Joseph Hamilton, who filed the application in the High Court, emerged at about 1600 hrs to update them.

He told them that the arguments had been concluded and Chief Justice Desiree Bernard would have to write up her decision which would be handed down on a date to be announced.

He asked them to stay focused and to await instructions from the party. Hamilton pleaded with them to return to their homes and not to become involved in acts of provocation.

In support of his call, quotations from the late Martin Luther King, Jr, were distributed. Some of the printed word read "In the process of gaining our rightful place, we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred".

Some of the demonstrators began moving, but others stood around and engaged police officers in conversation. Taking advantage of the absence of the Riot Squad, crowd members on three occasions lit firecrackers, which exploded sounding very much like gun shots, then laughed at the reaction of the unarmed policemen.

The police removed the barricades allowing traffic along the busy Stabroek Market square by 1500 hrs. Everyone dispersed then.