U.K., Canada, U.S. voice concern over Guyana
Guyana Chronicle
July 7, 2002

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`...the will of the Guyanese people, expressed through regular, free and fair elections, must be the sole basis of the authority and legitimacy of the government' - joint statement from the U.K., Canada, U.S.

WESTERN governments have expressed concern about the violence that erupted last week in Georgetown, stressing that change in Guyana can only be achieved through constitutional means.

Police shot dead two members of a group of anti-government protesters who stormed the Office complex of President Bharrat Jagdeo on Wednesday as leaders of the 15-member Caribbean Community (CARICOM) were preparing to open their 23rd summit at the National Cultural Centre.

Protesters, including supporters of the main opposition People's National Congress Reform (PNC/R) of former President Desmond Hoyte, also overturned and burned two cars, torched and looted three stores, and attacked and robbed several people caught in the mayhem.

Police shot and wounded about eight of the protesters and arrested 17, Police Commissioner Floyd McDonald said.

Police Friday night issued wanted bulletins for Philip Bynoe and Mark Benschop, two of the alleged protest leaders. A police statement said they are wanted for treason and other offences.

In a statement issued late Friday night at the end of their summit, CARICOM leaders strongly condemned the Wednesday attack on the Office of the President.

This was followed yesterday by a joint statement on the situation from the British, Canadian and United States embassies here.

It said Canada, the United Kingdom and the U.S. "share the deep concern of others, including CARICOM heads of state and government, about the recent events in Guyana, some of which have resulted in tragic loss of life."

"We attach great importance to vigorous democracy in Guyana, based upon democratic values and practices and supported by democratic institutions. We endorse the principle that the will of the Guyanese people, expressed through regular, free and fair elections, must be the sole basis of the authority and legitimacy of the government", the statement said.

The Office of the President has blamed the attack on the complex on the PNC/R.

It called the attack unprecedented and said it must be seen as a step by the PNC/R to assassinate President Jagdeo and remove the elected PPP/C Government from office.

PNC/R spokesmen Thursday said Bynoe was not a member of their party but admitted at a news conference that their supporters were among the protesters.

The Office of the President said "it wishes to state again that some Guyanese are being misled by the Opposition PNC/R and are being encouraged to rise up against the State."

The statement from the three western governments said change in Guyana "can only be achieved through constitutional means."

"Violence and related activities from any quarter can never advance the genuine interests or prosperity of the Guyanese people. The use of violence as a means to an end is contrary to all democratic principles and civilised behaviour and must cease if Guyana is not to degenerate into a state of lawlessness", the statement said.

It said, "we believe it is the role of Guyana's government to safeguard the human rights of its citizens, including the right of peaceful assembly, and to implement all of its international obligations and commitments."

The three governments called on all political leaders to "disassociate themselves from any acts which may disrupt public order and undermine the rule of law."

"Canada, the United Kingdom and the United States call upon all Guyanese to work together to secure through democratic means a society free of fear in which all individuals can advance and enjoy the prosperity they deserve", the statement added.

In their statement late Friday night, the CARICOM leaders said they "were greatly disturbed by the acts of violence" committed on Wednesday "by bands of persons who flouted the law with the intent of creating social disorder".

The Heads of Government "reiterated their commitment to uphold and respect the traditional democratic values of the Community."

"Among these values is the commitment to respect for the institutions of Government and to the holding of periodic elections for the people to determine the government of their choice", they said.

"In this context, they recalled that CARICOM, along with a number of highly reputable international organisations and other entities had observed the last election held in Guyana and had found that it had been freely and fairly conducted. It was therefore their view that the results should be fully accepted", the statement said.

The Heads reiterated their "condemnation of any attempt to use extra-constitutional and illegal means aimed at removing democratically elected governments from office. Such actions were contrary to several international resolutions, including the Inter-American Democratic Charter, which have been agreed upon by all hemispheric states."

They also reaffirmed the need for all parties "to adhere to the principles of the rule of law and the peaceful resolution of controversies through dialogue and negotiation."

Police have been maintaining patrols around the capital and surrounding areas since the violence Wednesday.

"We acknowledge the right to protest peacefully, but we cannot and will not condone any conduct deemed at disrupting the activities of this country", Police Commissioner McDonald declared at a news conference Thursday.

The top cop said those who survived after the two protesters who stormed the Office of the President complex were shot dead, "are lucky to be alive".

"That place is sacrosanct and should always be protected regardless of the costs. We would not allow that situation to be manifested again. The Office of the President must not be regarded as an ordinary office and I consider it an affront to this entire country for those elements to attempt, even attempt, to enter that building", McDonald told reporters.

He said that the Police are "well equipped" to deal with any future protests and will continue to maintain vigilance on the streets.

"We would not allow them (the protesters) to do what they like in this city or any other part of this country. Because this country belongs to all Guyanese and no one group should think that it has the right to inconvenience anyone in this society. We will maintain our vigilance and we would ensure that peace and tranquility is maintained," the Police chief stated.