Police this morning opened fire with rubber bullets on APNU protesters on Hadfield Street leaving at least five persons with wounds.
When Stabroek News arrived at the Georgetown Public Hospital two elderly persons bleeding from the legs were being rushed into the emergency room. Those seeking medical attention at the institution are Member of Parliament Joan Baveghems age 69; Sarah Johnson age 75; Brentol Holder age 61 of Pattensen, East Coast Demerara, a boy said to be around 8 years old and an unidentified woman.
Stabroek News was at the scene when the incident occurred at around 10.15 am. A large group left the Square of the Revolution and headed along Brickdam. They then turned the corner near the NIS and proceeded into Hadfield Street where they were met by about half a dozen armed policemen.
The ranks were heard over a loud speaker urging the crowd to disperse. The crowd failed to heed the warning and at some point there was a clash between ranks and some of the protestors resulting in shots being fired.
The crowd then scattered in different directions while the injured who were left lying on the ground were picked up and rushed to the hospital. The crowd has regrouped at the Square of the Revolution contemplating its next move. The APNU supporters have been protesting over the results of the general elections.
APNU member and attorney at law Debra Backer told reporters outside the Brickdam Police Station that though she was not present at the time of the shooting, she was told that attorney James Bond and former army chief Eddie Collins were also injured.
She said that the two men were being held at the Brickdam Police Station and that she had been unable to assess their condition as the police were not allowing her access.
Stabroek News was told that the two are among several persons being held at the Brickdam and the East La Penitence Police Stations.
Attorney-at-law Basil Williams along with others engaged Police Commander George Vyphuis in a meeting aimed at resolving the situation. Just before noon, minutes after Attorney Nigel Hughes was granted entry into the station compound, Williams and Bond exited in a police vehicle.
Mathis (only name given), a confectionary seller whose 10 year old son was wounded recounted to Stabroek News at the hospital that they were walking when they heard gunshots. Sara Johnson told a similar story. According to the elderly woman she heard police saying “disperse, disperse!” before shots were fired.
Police in their statement this afternoon said:
“At about 0900h this morning a crowd of persons gathered at the Square of the Revolution purportedly to be part of a march organized by the Youth Coalition For Transformation, an organisation headed by Attorney-at-Law James Bond and is reportedly the youth arm of APNU.
“This group had previously applied for permission to use a noisy instrument at the Square of the Revolution on 4th and 5th December, 2011, with timings. Yesterday December 05, 2011, at about 1450h. they applied for a Youth March for Change around the city. No date or time was stated.
“The group later informed the police that they wanted to march from today Tuesday December 06, 2011. This was in breach of the statutory 48 hours notice and no permission was granted to the organisation. This was communicated to Mr. James Bond.
“The persons gathered at the Square of the Revolution were warned that they should disperse as no permission had been granted for any march.
“Subsequently a group of persons headed by retired Brigadier Edward Collins was seen formed up on Brickdam facing west and, despite being warned, about 300 persons marched off west along Brickdam. The police then engaged them and they turned south into Winter Place and then west along Hadfield Street and continued despite being warned again, and the police fired rubber bullets at them.
“Another section of the crowd turned north into Winter Place and several persons were arrested.
“A number of persons sustained minor cuts and bruises.
“Shortly after, at about 1055h; another crowd was seen heading east along Duncan Street headed by retired Brigadier Edward Collins and James Bond. The police engaged the crowd and arrested Edward Collins and James Bond. It appeared that they had injuries from an earlier engagement with the police.
“All the arrested persons were taken to the Brickdam Police Station from where those persons who were injured were escorted for medical treatment.
“The Guyana Police Force wishes to issue another warning that no unlawful march, procession or meeting will be tolerated and that it will deal firmly with any person or persons wishing to breach the peace and disobey the laws.”
Schoolchildren affected by teargas
After the crowd which was fired upon by the police dispersed around 11 am, officers proceeded to clear the area around the Square of the Revolution which had been the staging ground for the protest.
As orders were issued on the hand-held radios of the lawmen, a group of officers proceeded to the area in front of the St Sidwell’s Primary School at Hadfield Street and Vlissengen Road and fired teargas into a small crowd of persons who gathered to see what was happening in the area.
The lawmen then proceeded to arrest several persons but as this was being done children within the nearby primary school were affected by teargas. Several parents rushed to the school as the teachers made arrangements to take students who were affected by the teargas to the hospital. At this point the police officers continued to fire teargas and rubber bullets at the small crowd which was dispersing as the schoolchildren wailed frantically. Several teachers from the school pleaded with the officers to cease the operation outside of the school to no avail.
Several parents also rushed to a nearby daycare on Hadfield Street, located obliquely opposite to the primary school.
Head teacher of the school Donna Morgan told the media that eight students and a teacher sought attention at a city hospital for the teargas.
She said that the students were in great fear at the sight of the armed officers proceeding in the direction of the school. She said that as the lawmen fired into the small group of persons who had gathered at the area the students became very agitated and confused.
Police overreacted – Granger
Presidential Candidate of APNU, David Granger and other officials subsequently met with Divisional Commander, George Vyphuis at the Brickdam Police Station where the coalition voiced its concern over the police actions.
Granger told the media that the police overreacted, adding that it was a group of young persons who were protesting peacefully at the time.
“No attack was made on anyone, no building was attacked”, he argued.
“It was an overreaction and there was no reason for the police to use that level of force”, he reiterated, adding that several persons were even arrested by the police on their way to Congress Place after the crowd had dispersed.
As regards permission for the exercise, Granger noted that he would have to investigate the issue but he noted that the party had applied for a permit, noting that it’s a matter involving young people and no noisy instruments were being used neither was the group attempting to create disorder.
Granger stated that APNU will continue to protest peacefully against GECOM until the latter conducts a verification of the statements of poll (SOP) of last week’s elections. “We will maintain pressure until GECOM is able to satisfy the public that the SOPs have been verified”, Granger noted.
“I would like to urge the police to desist from shooting innocent people and causing injury… they are creating a crisis where none exist”, Granger declared.