`Boom boom' protest sparks chaos on East Bank by Mark Ramotar and Stacey Davidson
Guyana Chronicle
February 2, 2002

Two elderly women, Kamla and Lovin, were left stranded at their workplace at Farm on the East Bank and had to walk from there to their homes in Eccles

JUST when it seemed like the mini-bus strike that began Monday was beginning to lose steam yesterday, a confrontation with Police on the East Bank Demerara sparked widespread chaos among commuters and other road users.

Traffic came to a standstill and confusion reigned on the East Bank road yesterday afternoon when the vehicle of controversial former TV personality, Mark Benschop leading a convoy of protesting mini-buses, was surrounded by armed policemen at a roadblock in front the Providence Police Station.

The standoff resulted in passengers, including school children and workers, being left stranded at various points along the East Bank road and at parks in Georgetown which had begun to return normalcy in the morning.

The East Bank highway is the main artery in and out of the city and as the confrontation between Benschop developed, mini-bus operators from routes such as the West Coast and West Bank Demerara, East Bank, Linden and Georgetown found themselves in the procession and not working. Other vehicles were also caught up in the traffic jam.

Some among the protesters stopped non-striking mini-buses ordering them to stop working and "join the struggle".

There were several reports that passengers were pulled out of mini-buses and robbed of gold chains, rings, money and watches.

At least three mini-buses were seen with slashed/punctured punctured tyres in the vicinity of Houston and Nigel, the operator of mini-bus BGG 8928, said he was beaten by some of the protesters who also threw mud on him.

Police later allowed Benschop to leave the scene but by then, crowds of passengers were left stranded in Georgetown, along the East Bank and other routes as those mini-buses that were not in the protest convoy, had stopped working.

Persons were trying to get any means of transportation home as scores were left stranded at car parks in the city. A Good Samaritan, on several trips, was transporting some of the stranded to the East Bank Demerara in his yellow open-back truck.

At times children were pulled on to the already filled truck while it was still moving.

There was tightened police security at all car parks in the city. Hire cars were doing brisk business at all the parks - Georgetown/Timehri; East and West Bank; West and East Coast Demerara, and Rosignol.

But some commuters, some with children were waiting hopelessly to get some mode of transport to take them home.

A massive demonstration was planned for yesterday morning in Georgetown as mainly Georgetown-Rosignol bus operators kept up the protest against the police `boom boom' (big music) boxes campaign.

TV owner and leader of the Justice For All Party, Mr. C.N. Sharma was scheduled to lead the procession with Benschop around the city but was not granted police permission.

It was reported that Sharma notified the police less than the 48 hours in advance required to get the green light.

Not many mini-buses turned up for that protest procession and some buses had resumed runs at the Kitty/Campbellville; Georgetown/Timehri; Georgetown/Parika; Lodge/South; West/East Ruimveldt and Lamaha/Hospital parks.

There was no protest action in Berbice and on the Essequibo Coast.

But in Georgetown, some of the mini-buses were seen parked at the 1763 Monument Square for some time and afterwards were ordered to "cruise around town" by Benschop.

Then word came that some mini-buses had been pulled in for routine checks at the Providence Police Station and Benschop led a convoy there.

One eyewitness said the group stopped briefly by the Demerara Harbour Bridge and some elements from the procession started stopping other mini-buses that were working, especially those plying the West Bank and West Coast (31 and 32) routes and began pulling passengers out of the vehicles and in the process, robbing them.

The procession went up to Grove where it turned back and headed to Georgetown, with police watching on.

However, on the return trip the convoy was confronted by armed police at a barricade on the road in front the Providence Police Station.

The procession reached Providence at around 15:00 hrs and was stopped from going any further as the police attempted to arrest Benschop.

On approaching the barricade, Benschop stopped his vehicle a short distance away and using a loud-hailer, told the policemen, "We are kindly asking you fellas to peacefully allow us to pass...that is all we are saying, we are peacefully asking you to remove the roadblocks."

A rail of the roadblock was removed and Benschop was beckoned by the policemen to move on, but as soon as his vehicle reached the opening of the barricade exactly in front the police station, the Officer-in-Charge instructed his ranks to "arrest him".

Armed policemen then surrounded Benschop's vehicle but he sat silently in the car, windows up and the safety locks on the vehicle doors on.

Benschop at one stage attempted to `bore' through the barricade but was blocked from the front by a police vehicle which drove up in front of his car. Another police vehicle which had driven up behind Benschop complemented the already sturdy blockage.

The mini-bus protesters then drove through the gas station opposite the barrier and the police station and blocked the surrounding area outside the station. They began chanting, "Let Benschop go" and "We ain't leaving here without Mark".

"No negotiations" was the vociferous chant that went up among the angry mini-bus operators when a police rank attempted to talk to Benschop after he had eased the window down a little on the driver's side of the car.

At 15:20 hrs, the Police allowed Benschop to go and the protesters began cheering triumphantly and jeering and taunting the cops.

Meanwhile, all passengers travelling in opposite directions of the roadblock at Providence had to walk.

Passengers going past Providence in the direction of Linden were left stranded from as far as Georgetown to Peter's Hall, the neighbouring village of Providence, since the mini-bus operators who dared to work could not go any further and passengers had to stop off and walk the rest or, if lucky, hitch a ride with other vehicles.

A `Canter' truck was seen near Eccles at around 16:40 hrs ferrying at least 15 school children who had been stranded.

Some like Marcia Edwards and Delisha Hopkinson who both attend secondary schools in the city were not so fortunate and were left stranded on the East Bank road by the mini-bus they had come in since the vehicle was forced to turn back. The two schoolgirls had to walk from Peter's Hall to somewhere inside Mocha.

Two elderly women, Kamla and Lovin, were left stranded at their workplace at Farm on the East Bank and had to walk from there to their homes in Eccles. Many other passengers - young and old, schoolchildren and workers - were seen walking in both directions along the East Bank road.

The mini-bus procession travelled back through the city and later assembled at the 1763 Monument Square.