Over 20,000 in peaceful protest march -- Hoyte, Ally lead

By Steve Ninvalle
January 16, 1998

Thousands of pro-People's National Congress (PNC) protesters, on their best behaviour, participated in a massive march through the streets of Georgetown. In contrast to previous days, protesters were silent and walked in rows of three. There were no barricades, no tear-gassing, and no clashes with police.

Unofficial police sources estimated the amount of persons participating in the march at 25,000.

Led by leaders of the PNC, Desmond Hoyte, and Guyana Democratic Party (GDP), Asgar Ally, the peaceful and orderly procession walked through central Georgetown culminating at the Square of the Revolution. There protesters were addressed by PNC top brass and Ally.

The march, which included persons of all ages and from all walks of life, and the subsequent gathering at the Square of the Revolution defied a one-month ban on public gatherings issued on Tuesday by Home Affairs Minister, Samuel Hinds. Protesters numbered around 7,000 when the march left Congress Place, headquarters of the PNC, at 11 a.m. But the numbers swelled, with others joining in as it passed through the streets of Georgetown.

The march was preceded by police outriders followed by hundreds of motorcyclists with pillion riders, some carrying posters of PNC leader Desmond Hoyte. After the motorcycles, a larger band of pedal cyclists followed. They preceded the thousands on foot, who were cushioned by dozens of cars which brought up the rear.

As the procession passed through some of the downtown areas, Hoyte and Ally were hailed by residents and passersby and in turn raised clenched fists in response.

"The point is to demonstrate to the world that our marches are peaceful. What happened on Monday was orchestrated by the PPP [People's Progressive Party]," Hoyte told Stabroek News.

Before the march started, Hoyte addressed the gathering at Congress Place and requested that they be orderly, keep the peace and not chant, something synonymous with prior marches. He also asked that they march three abreast. Heeding his request the thousands of protesters moved silently through the city.

"This is a silent but powerful message to Mrs [Janet] Jagan and Sam Hinds," Hoyte said.

He had earlier indicated that he would have left the march to attend a meeting with CARICOM officials at 11.30, but said later that he was able to reschedule the meeting in order to be with the march to the end. However, because of that meeting he was unable to address the gathering at Square of the Revolution.

The protesters marched through Garnett Street, south into Vlissengen Road, east into Regent Street, north into New Garden Street, west into Crown Street and Third Street. They then moved south into Cummings Street, west into Middle Street, south into Waterloo Street, west into Church Street, south into Avenue of the Republic and east into D'Urban Street to end at the Square of the Revolution.

At various points, workers and residents who were witness to the long procession spontaneously joined the march. Members of the police Tactical Service Unit (TSU) and Quick Reaction Group (QRG) were not seen patrolling as was evident on previous occasions.

At the Square of the Revolution at 1 pm, PNC General Secretary, Aubrey Norton, reminded protesters that their efforts would not cease until a people's government was sitting in office.

"We will continue to defy the order but peacefully," he told the large gathering adding that their success relied them continuing to be peaceful. "We will use peaceful and innovative means of protest. The struggle continues," Norton said.

Asking protesters to assemble at Congress Place tomorrow for further instructions, the general secretary disclosed that a church service was being planned by the PNC.

In his address, Ally said that in 1763 national hero Cuffy struck the first blow for freedom.

"Today [yesterday] we have struck another blow for freedom," he said, adding that the struggle was not one of a racial nature but a Guyanese struggle. "The PPP wants this to be a racial struggle," he claimed.

"We will fight to remove this illegal government. We will march and protest peacefully until victory is won."

Ally congratulated the gathering for its discipline.

On Wednesday, PNC candidate and one of the organisers of yesterday's activity Joseph Hamilton had estimated mobilising some 20,000 to be on the march. That same day prime minister-designate Sam Hinds, who has portfolio for the Home Affairs Ministry made a special appeal to the PNC to stay off the streets.

Marshals wearing black arm bands and placed at strategic parts of the procession, ensured its smooth movement, and, according to a PNC official, guarded against criminal elements joining the march.

Following mob type activity after the declaration of the judgement against the PNC by Chief Justice Desiree Bernard, on Monday, and the subsequent Order on Tuesday, Hinds had warned that the army and police would enforce the Order to the fullest extent in Georgetown.