Police tear-gas PNC protesters

By Michael DaSilva, Mark Ramotar, Steve Ninvalle and Patrick Denny

Starbroek News
January 14, 1998

The Bourda ward in Georgetown was yesterday transformed into a war zone, as pro-PNC protesters threw down the gauntlet to the police despite an order banning processions and tear-gas laced battles erupted between the two sides.

The police resorted to tear-gas, after thousands of Guyanese, who joined an orderly motorcade organised by the People's National Congress (PNC), later refused to disperse after receiving instructions from the police to do so. The police's action resulted in persons resorting to blocking roads and burning tyres and wooden pallets in the streets.

Following a mid-morning press conference hosted at the PNC's Congress Place headquarters, its leader, Desmond Hoyte, to rousing cheers of his party supporters, who had gathered in the compound, assured that despite the Order on Monday banning marches and processions in the city, the party's protest demonstrations, which had been so far peacefully conducted will continue.

Hoyte directed his supporters to walk three abreast so as not to disrupt the flow of traffic. He told them that they would be preceded along the route into the city by cars and followed by another set of cars.

With his instructions to keep the peace ringing in their ears, 54 motor-cyclists with pillion riders, 151 pedal cyclists, 38 cars and mini-buses with passengers and over 600 pedestrians, left Congress Place, Sophia in a very orderly manner, at about 1.30 pm. As the procession wended its way through Garnett, Sheriff and Duncan streets then south along Vlissengen Road, its numbers grew. They were preceded by a police Impact vehicle.

Waving clenched fists and chanting "Janet must go" and the "the struggle continues" the procession moved peacefully.

Turning east into Regent Road, Bourda, they were confronted by several platoons of police in 'Box Formation' (a body blockade) at the corner of New Garden Street and advised by the Officer in Charge, Senior Superintendent Paul Slowe, to disperse and to go to their homes.

Paying no heed to the advice, the protesters turned north into New Garden Street and continued into North Road where they were again confronted by armed policemen at the corner of Oronoque Street and North Road.

The procession came to a halt momentarily (2.35 pm) and some of its members proceeded to Church Street where they were again confronted by another platoon of police from the Tactical Service Unit (TSU). At this point, the once-orderly procession balked; its members refused to turn back and boldly made their way past the law officers much to the amusement of curious onlookers gathered on the Merriman's Mall.

Apparently gaining confidence from the move the group opposite on North Road, went past the police body barricade also. The split groups then converged on Regent Street. It was here, at around 3 pm, as they defied further orders to disperse, that the protesters became the target of tear smoke. Several residents of the area later complained of being affected by the smoke. Children in the neighbourhood, including a four-month-old infant had to be rushed to the Georgetown Hospital for treatment after the tear-gas attack. It was alleged that the tear smoke also affected children at the Raphael Day Care Centre at the corner of Light and Charlotte streets. Reports from the hospital said that over 20 people including children were treated for pellet wounds and tear-gas effects.

Persons were sent running in all directions, but regrouped soon after, chanting, "We ain't giving up." The majority of the protesters held rags and handkerchiefs to their noses. Members of the media were also affected.

"They artillery gon don but we ain't finishing," a member of the crowd shouted. "We protesting in a peaceful manner y'all hurting us," another said.

At 3.35 pm, a senior PNC member told persons to make their way to Congress Place and await further instructions. He said, "We have achieved our aim today. We have shown the authorities that we can and will continue the struggle."

Persons on Regent Street, however, went to North Road and joined others who had already gathered in front of Hoyte's home.

At 4.05 pm the crowd headed for the Square of the Revolution. But in Brickdam they were again confronted by the police who used tear-gas to break up the procession in front of the National Insurance Scheme. While some ran away, others sought shelter in the compound of the Palms (a home for the indigent).

Two persons were injured with pellets after police opened shotgun fire on the crowd in Brickdam. Norbert Cox, 50, and Michelle Gouveia, 20, were both shot in the legs and hands.

Cox of East Ruimveldt, told this newspaper that he was not a part of the motorcade, but was standing in the compound of the Palms when he heard the shots and subsequently felt a burning in both legs and on the index finger of his left hand. Two pellets were visible in his leg and one in his finger.

Gouveia of 10 Norton Stret, Lodge, suffered pellet wounds to both legs (four in one leg and three in the other). She also received a wound on her left forearm. She too said she was never a part of the motorcade, but that she was on her way home when she heard the sound gun shots and felt a burning sensation in her legs and hand. She subsequently discovered that she had been hit by pellets. Both Cox and Gouveia were rushed to the Georgetown Hospital by a public-spirited citizen in a car.

The procession now in chaos, persons remained in the Bourda area and danced waved and shouted anti-PPP slogans after the tear smoke had cleared. Later in the afternoon large trash containers were used by the crowd to block roadways, while protesters took matters into their own hands. They formed themselves into groups and while one group heaped used tyres across Regent Street and set them on fire, others did likewise at most of the corners in Bourda and other parts of Georgetown. The Guyana Fire Service had to be called out to put out the many fires which engulfed the city.

Yesterday, the PPP/Civic issued a statement condemning Hoyte and the PNC for flouting the Order banning protest marches for a month. The Order was issued by Home Affairs Minister Sam Hinds in the wake of city disturbances on Monday.

The PNC in a statement said it was disturbed at what it said was the wanton use of tear-gas on the "peaceful protest demonstration".