Protests over an increase in power tariffs took a tragic turn last evening in Linden, when three persons were shot and killed and buildings and vehicles were set on fire.
Riot squad ranks fired shotgun cartridges at protestors after missiles were hurled during a confrontation at the Wismar/Mackenzie Bridge, which had been blocked as part of the protest since the morning.
Although police did not confirm casualties, relatives at the Linden Hospital Complex (LHC) identified Ivan Lewis, of Wismar Housing Scheme, Ron Somerset, of Amelia’s Ward and Shemroy Bouyea, of Wisroc Housing Scheme, who was described as mentally-challenged, as the three men killed.
Police eventually managed to clear the bridge but reported that roving groups of protestors had set fires and additional reinforcements were last night dispatched to the community. Joint Services patrols were also deployed in the area and there was an appeal for calm by residents by law enforcement.
Government last night said that a full investigation of the events would be held as soon as sufficient calm is restored. In a brief statement, it extended condolences to the families of the dead, while also blaming opposition activists for the situation. The demonstration yesterday was supposed to be the first of a five-day ‘shutdown’ of the town as protests over the imposition of a hike in electricity rates gathered steam.
The first man was shot around 6.30pm as police began moving protesters off the bridge. Half an hour after, protestors took two others to the nearby LHC with bullet wounds to the head and chest and they were pronounced dead on arrival. Police said they were unable to gather sufficient information on those injured as they were greeted by a hostile crowd outside of the Hospital.
It was while police were clearing the bridge that fire broke out at the nearby Linmine Secretariat compound, which housed several offices, including those of the Guyana Revenue Authority, Linden Electricity Company Inc (LECI), the PPP/C’s regional office, the Linden Care Foundation, the Praise Tabernacle Assembly of God Church, Linmine Security and the training centre for the disabled. The fire at the compound was still burning up to press time and by then the main Linmine Secretariat building was burnt flat.
Four trucks, including one transporting fuel that was eventually destroyed, were also set on fire at Wismar. Apart from the tanker, a truck with an empty trailer on Casuarina Drive, a ‘bush truck,’ and a laden lumber truck, which were on the Wismar end of the bridge, were set on fire. Angry protestors erected several blockades along the Washer Pond Road, which prevented the fire-fighters from immediately responding. Several fires were also set at points at Mackenzie, including the Washer Pond Road and the Kara Kara Bridge along Sir David Rose Avenue.
‘We ain’t going nowhere’
Protestors had moved off from various points on the Wismar Shore at 9am, with the main areas being the Wisroc Junction and Christianburg. Those two groups merged at the Silvertown Junction, while Mackenzie residents marched from Amelia’s Ward and were joined by others from communities along the way and headed to the Wismar/Mackenzie Bridge.
Businesses were closed, the hospital was manned by a skeleton staff and there was no evidence of any operating round-the-town transportation as taxi-drivers and boat captains were among the protestors.
By 10 am, they were on the bridge, chanting, “we ain’t going nowhere, this is we bridge, we ain’t going nowhere.” Using large obstacles, they then erected blockades at both ends and the centre of the bridge. They also mounted tents at the centre span, where they camped out, cooking, singing gospel songs and where they were later addressed by protest leaders, including Regional Chairman Sharma Solomon and union leader Lincoln Lewis.
But immediately after the address by Solomon, armed riot squad members assembled several yards from the bridge in the vicinity of the old Linden hospital compound.
Residents stated that the first attempt made by law enforcement for dispersal of the crowd was asking, over a loudspeaker, that persons return to their places of abode. There were more warnings and failure to comply by protestors resulted in the ranks firing tear gas, which ended up missing their targets as a large number of persons who were in the offices in the Linmine Secretariat compound ended up being affected. This triggered an angry response from some residents in the community who were not protesting and they too took to the streets. “That was not a wind that sent the smoke to us, they were literally pointing their guns at us and shooting,” said one of the persons in the compound.
The squad members were all unmasked and several of them were affected and were seen abandoning their positions and running coughing and calling for water.
It took the squad approximately 20 minutes before the tear gas reaching the blocked bridge. “All dis time we were still peaceful and not doing anything but crying for justice,” said a protestor. Several others said that they witnessed reckless shooting.
As the confrontation continued, the wooden decking of the centre span of the bridge was set on fire and it took more than half an hour before the flames were put out.
The extent of the damage to the bridge is unknown but up to press time it was cleared and opened to traffic.
There was soon gunfire at the five-corner area at the junction of Sir David Rose Avenue, Mackenzie, where a sizable amount of persons had gathered. They were all at snackettes, most grabbing something to eat while others stood around anticipating their next move.
Earlier in the day, the squad members were forced to retreat as they were advancing to the crowd and a large number of the protesters cried and wailed, saying, “Is people just like you calling for justice, our children and old people on that bridge. This is not necessary we are peaceful.”