Roving bands threaten city stores
-- PPP denounces `campaign of fear’
Guyana Chronicle
June 26, 2004

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A GROUP of about 60 protesters, split into small bands, yesterday went through Georgetown streets, ordering business places along Regent Street to shut down.

While police patrols kept watch, the small bands of mostly women went along Regent Street bullying many store owners into shutting up shop for the day with chants of “If they open, shut them down!”

The movement of the protesters along Regent Street was largely disorganised and the reasons for marching unclear but the People’s Progressive Party (PPP) said it was a “campaign of fear” organised by the main Opposition People’s National Congress Reform (PNCR).

The Police Force said a march was applied for and approved by the Police `A’ Division to follow a prescribed route in Georgetown, but while on that route elements of the march diverted and proceeded along routes which were not approved.

“The subsequent conduct of these elements was cause for concern of many in the business community and other persons conducting their lawful and legitimate business”, the Force said in a press release.

In a statement, the PPP condemned the attempts by “PNCR-organised and led street gangs which threatened school children, store owners, shoppers, among others in central Georgetown, particularly Regent Street.”

“The gangs of street protesters led by PNCR Members of Parliament and opposition Channel Nine talk show hosts were demanding businesses to close shop. The thugs also forced their way into the Brickdam Secondary School, harassing school children and their teachers”, the PPP said.

It charged that this was “a sad reminder of the PNCR well-known tradition of thuggery, street violence, looting, robbery and molestation of law-abiding Guyanese.”

“The PNCR and Robert Corbin cannot deny their involvement, as they are wont to do, as their leaders have today been photographed in the act and would have no doubt attracted the attention of the Guyana Police Force which responded to this most unsavoury development to protect citizens and their property”, the PPP said.

It claimed that the PNCR has been waiting on some excuse, “created by them as they skillfully do, just to resort once again to criminal activities.”

“Not only does this seem to be a campaign of fear against the citizenry, but is a calculated tactic by the PNCR to blackmail businessmen and holding them to ransom to make donations. Already some business owners have complained that they have received demands for donation, failing which their enterprises would be targeted”, the PPP said.

It called on citizens, private sector bodies and the international community “to take note of this renewed campaign of fear and intimidation by the Opposition PNCR” and urged the law enforcement agency to “take every measure to protect citizens and their property from the PNCR street protesters and criminals.”

Some businesses were defiant in face of the intimidation.

When the protesters attempted to shut one half of the double-door of one upper Regent Street store, a male employee pushed it back open. When there was an attempt to close the other half, a male customer went to the assistance of the employee and shortly afterwards the protesters moved on, threatening the two men.

At the time, a police vehicle was a short distance away, the officers observing the events that transpired.

Defiance was more the exception than the norm however.

Employees at one pharmacy said they were forced to close after a band threatened to break their display glass and help themselves to the stock.

Mr. Eddie Boyer, Chairman of the Georgetown Chamber of Commerce and Industry said, in an invited comment to the Chronicle, “while we condemn the killing [of George Bacchus] – the issue that caused the protest – we also condemn the method by which the protesters expressed their anger.”

He said it was deplorable that a group of citizens can march down the road and force the closure of so many businesses.

Many businesspeople were forced to send back stock that they were clearing from the wharves, he said, adding that he received calls from businesspeople in other countries, inquiring whether businesses were being forced to close up.

According to Boyer, businesspeople are the wealth creators of the country but they seem to be the ones targeted whenever there is social upheaval.

He said that whenever such events occur, in addition to endangering people’s lives, there is a host of associated problems for businesses, one example being the impact it has on insurance.

Protests such as yesterday’s can not only drive up insurance premiums but also signal a significant enough risk from insurance providers to withdraw their services from some companies, he said.

Boyer felt that there should be more preventative measures in place to stop further such incidents from occurring.

He said there should be more protection for businesses under the law.