From Amerindian rights to Sooba…Five groups in noisy protest outside of Parliament

-pandemonium after punch thrown

Hundreds of persons protesting a range of issues gathered outside Parliament Buildings yesterday chanting loudly and later causing pandemonium when a section of the crowd clashed with the police.

Fists were thrown and tempers reached boiling points when a uniformed rank got into a physical altercation with a man protesting for the removal of Town Clerk Carol Sooba. His fellow protestors and those from APNU who were agitating for the staging of local government elections quickly went to his aid.

This resulted in the gates to the Parliament Buildings being padlocked and a squad of policemen arriving to try and quell the angry crowd. “Who must go? Sooba!” the protestors shouted so loudly that they could be heard inside the parliament chambers.

We have grievances: Amerindians from several regions protesting outside of Parliament yesterday.
We have grievances: Amerindians from several regions protesting outside of Parliament yesterday.

APNU MPs Annette Ferguson and Christopher Jones eventually succeeded in ensuring that the protestors who were holding placards formed an orderly line. At one point they, too, were seen holding placards and leading the protestors.

Also protesting yesterday were Amerindians from different hinterland regions, members of youth arm of the PPP who were calling for the green light to be given for the Amaila Falls Hydro project and relatives of four policemen who were recently sentenced to eighteen months for assaulting a businessman. These protestors were grouped together at the corner of Brickdam and High Street about 100 metres from where the clash was taking place.

Things took a turn just before 2 pm, when police attempted to remove the vendors protesting on Brickdam in front of Parliament Building. They were protesting for the removal of Sooba. The protestors, mostly women, chanted loudly and raised their placards over their heads.

Police ranks were seen attempting to set up barricades where the protestors stood but before long it was pushed down. The policeman who had the altercation with the man is being accused of firing the first punch. He was apparently instructed by his superiors to leave and the gates to Parliament were opened to allow him entry.

At this point, APNU protestors who were a short distance away joined in. Shortly after, more ranks and a vehicle which is used to transport prisoners to court arrived.

APNU’s shadow Home Affairs minister Winston Felix who left the parliament chambers to assess the situation told members of the media that police were interfering with the rights of the protestors.
He said that a motion that was previously brought before the House to have barriers removed completely during protests.  He stressed that “peaceful picketing’ is provided for under the law adding that once they (the protestors) do not block entrances or exits they should not be interfered with.

Felix, a former police commissioner said too that it is clear that there is an interference with the rights of persons to engage and “and we should not provoke the situation under these circumstances”. He added that one cannot stop the police from calling for reinforcements for additional equipment. “…they are free to do that but (with) peaceful picketing, all that needs to happen is that the police must police peaceful picketing so as to prevent breaches of the peace not to occasion a breach of the peace”, Felix said.

Jones later told the media before heading back to the Parliament Chamber that Local Government Minister Ganga Persaud and other members of government should take heed of what was happening outside. “We the opposition will stand resolutely behind every single one of them”, he said.

Ferguson noted that the opposition will continue to apply the pressure. She said that they are calling for Local Government elections. “The government must respect the majority. The majority speaks”.

Amerindian issues
Jean La Rose a resident of Moruca in Region One said the protestors came from Regions one, two, seven and nine. She said that their main concern is about land issues – including titling and the conflicts they have with miners who occupy these lands.

La Rose who was also on the picket line which was being closely monitored by police, pointed out that the legislation is inadequate, “as much as the government keeps saying that the legislation is there it protect, it is inadequate to protect the communities as shown by a court decision that taken against the village of Isseneru in January”. A miner with a claim that predated the Amerindian Act was allowed to continue mining.

La Rose argued that the government is not taking notice of the many issues which are being brought to their attention by the Amerindian people. She said that in the case of Kako (Region Seven), the community had expressed an interest in meeting with the minister (Amerindian) but a “low level team” who could not make decisions was sent. Up tol now, she said there has been no word from them. She said that during the morning yesterday, Amerindian representatives met with the Indi-genous Peoples Commission and today they hope to meet with the National Toshaos Council.

She said that they hope that their protest action will not only get the attention of government but also the opposition.  She said that some of the Amerindian people are fed up of the situation while others “continue to be pulled by the government and make decisions basically based on what the government tell them”. La Rose said that the protestors mobilized themselves.

August 9, she said is the United Nations (UN) Day of the World’s Indigenous People and the theme has to do with honouring agreements and treaties. She said that Guyana has signed on to several international conventions including the Conven-tion on the Elimination of all forms racial discrimination which has provisions that cater to indigenous people as well as the UN declaration on the rights of indigenous people. La Rose said that government has so far failed to
honour the obligations that they too on.

She said that today there is a forum at the Umana Yana and then another protest on Friday in  front of the Minis-try of Amerindian Affairs.

Charles George, a resident of Region Nine explained that he and other residents were there to protest for their lands. The man told Stabroek News that government has failed to give them the titles for their lands although they have been continuously applying.

According to George they had applied for their titles through the Ministry of Amerindian Affairs. He said that up to now there has been no feedback on the numerous applications they have made. “That is what we are here for”, the man, who was holding a placard stressed.

He said that over 500 persons live in his community.

During the protest, the Amerindians who were standing behind barricades were heard singing.

About ten persons were holding placards marked PYO. PYO is the youth arm of PPP. Based on the placards they were holding, they were in support of the Amaila Falls Hydro Project. Several members of the organization told Stabroek News that they are fully in support of the project since it will result in lower electricity for all Guyanese. The youth arm was also calling on the opposition to support the Hydro project.

Family members of the four policemen who were sentenced to 18 months imprisonment each last Friday after they assaulted a businessman were also picketing near Parliament. Magistrate Judy Latchman handed down the sentences for Kevon Smith, Jermaine Scott, Marlon Gonzales and Wilwert Watts.

The relatives of the men protested for a second straight day, calling for them to be released from prison since they felt that the sentencing was unfair.. The four officers were charged after they assaulted businessman Nizam Khan at his home, so as to cause him actual bodily harm.

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