Riots, looting, fires, and gunshots

On Wednesday, July 3, Georgetown experienced riots, looting, fires, and gunshots. The Peace Corps personally took all of us home from training and asked us to stay with our host families the rest of the evening. I saw some of the protestors, but no violence. Basically, the minority party stormed the president of Guyana’s office and managed to break in. The president’s guards killed two intruders and a few stores were looted.

Here is a follow-up story that ran on Friday in the Guyana Chronicle.

Police on high alert after violence — two shot dead as group invades Office of the President compound

THE Police were last night on high alert and security and patrol arrangements by the Police and Army were intensified in Georgetown following the shocking midday invasion yesterday of the Office of the President compound by illegal protestors – two of whom were shot dead, nine injured and several arrested – and the burning of two Regent Street stores.

The last incident up to press time was an attempt to burn down the Courts Furniture Store and Caribbean Chemicals on Regent Street. One of the show windows of Courts was smashed, Police said.

At the time of the lunchtime attack on the Presidential Complex, President Bharrat Jagdeo was attending the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) Civil Society Encounter at the Ocean View Convention Centre, Liliendaal, East Coast Demerara.

In a series of events that started before sunrise, hundreds of protestors from Mr. Phillip Bynoe’s People’s Solidarity Movement, aligned to the main Opposition People’s National Congress/Reform (PNC/R), eventually made their way to the Office of the President, where a group stormed through the gate of the compound while ministers and other officials of the Government were at work in their offices.

The Office of the President reported that the guards at the gate were assaulted and the group of criminal elements stormed into the compound. Warning shots and continuous appeals from the security ranks on duty failed to prevent the invasion, it said.

Sergeant Lewis, the officer in charge of the Presidential Guards at the New Garden Street sentry point was beaten and had to be hospitalized because of the injuries to his head, the office said.

The protestors forced their way into several offices, concentrating on the Accounts Department. The Office of the President said several staff members and work-study students were threatened, held at knife point and robbed.

The group then began to carry out an indiscriminate destruction of equipment, furniture and parts of the offices.

The Presidential guards then discharged rounds during which a man and a woman were shot dead. A black handle knife was discovered in the waist of the deceased man, Police said.

Seventeen persons who were part of the protest were arrested and are in custody, Police said.

Nine persons who suffered gunshot wounds had to be treated at the Georgetown Public Hospital, the Ministry of Health reported. Five of them were admitted to the hospital.

Those injured were: Germaine Fraser, 25, of Beterverwagting; Orland Caesar, 25, also of Beterverwagting; Tracy Hopkinson, 29, of Plaisance; Ralph Caesar, 30, of Linden; Mark Lewis, 29, of Golden Grove; Bryan London, 19, of Paradise; Andy Williams, 32, of West Ruimveldt; Kelvin Nicholson of Melanie; Clint Fletcher, 32, of Linden.

In a statement, Minister of Health, Dr. Leslie Ramsammy lamented that the health sector was again severely challenged as a large number of persons from the unruly protest had to be treated by the hospital, while still taking care of genuinely sick persons.

A `station wagon’ was overturned and set on fire by protestors at the junction of Regent and New Garden Streets.

Down Regent Street, several huge stones and other debris were thrown on the road.

Shortly thereafter, Police reported that a group of protestors broke down the door of the Payless Variety and Gift Store on Regent Street, looted and then lit the store afire. A car parked outside of the store, which belonged to the store’s owner, was also turned over and shoved on the pavement in front of the store. It caught afire as the blaze spread.

The fire soon caught on the Fullworths General Store next door. The store was gutted, except for the front half of the bottom and middle flats of the store. However, only a small quantity of goods from the ground floor was spared.

Though there were complaints that the Fire Service was slow to arrive on the scene, their actions, aided by others, helped to avert damage to other stores, including the newly opened Bounty Meat Centre.

Police said the driver of a fire tender which was proceeding to the scene of the fires was assaulted and some of his gear stolen while a wheel of the vehicle was punctured.

At the fired razed on, panic gripped Regent Street as the overhead electric wires started sparking and persons ran in fright in all directions.

As they are forced to do every time there is a protest, Regent Street stores shut their doors. Shutters were rolled up, iron doors were slammed in and ply boards, where not already, were quickly put on to protect glass show windows.

Up to dusk, some stores were still busy putting protective measures in place.

At around 14:00 hrs Police said, a vehicle owned by a Professional Distribution Investments was attacked and looted while on Oronoque Street during which a quantity of cash and cigarettes were stolen.

Police reported that the driver, salesman and another occupant fled the scene and the vehicle was later towed away by its owners.

The bus and taxi parks were also virtually cleared as the events unfolded. At least one taxi service cancelled its services for a while. When it resumed service, its customers were mainly those who wanted to be taken out of town.

The march, led by Bynoe, who has publicly indicated his alignment to the PNC/R, moved off at around 06:55 hrs from Golden Grove, East Coast Demerara.

However, the string of criminal activities started three hours before, when a fire was lit on the Victoria Public Road by criminal elements, Police said. The fire was extinguished by the Police.

Shortly after, Police said another fire was lit on the Golden Grove public road by “criminal elements” from a crowd of about 50 persons who, “while enjoying the spectacle of their unlawful actions”, chanted “More fire, more fire”. This fire, too, was extinguished by the Police.

Then at Belfield public road, a blockage was erected, “again by criminal elements” who placed the shell of a motor car across the road, Police said. The blockage was removed by Police.

During the march to Georgetown, which apparently grew in size from village to village, Police said, two citizens, one from Good Hope and the other from Success, were among those robbed “by criminal elements” who were in the illegal procession led by Bynoe.

Police said that in the first incident, a 42-year-old woman of Success was robbed of her gold chain and pendant valued at $16,000. The woman was a passenger on a mini-bus which was proceeding slowly along the Coldingen Public Road when another woman approached her and snatched the chain and pendant she was wearing around her neck. The robber reportedly disappeared back into the procession, Police said.

In the other incident, which occurred at about 09:25 hrs, a 32-year-old man of Success Village was robbed of his bicycle valued at $8,000. Police said four men from the procession went into his yard, beat him and his wife, then rode out the yard with the bicycle. The attackers threw his wife on the ground after the beating.

Police reported that during the protests, ten incidents of robbery with violence were perpetrated on commuters and cash and other valuables stolen by criminal elements armed with knives, sticks and metal bars.

Meantime, the group of persons who had for weeks been encamped outside the residence of the Prime Minister on Main Street, Georgetown, were no longer in sight last evening.

The Police dismantled the camp and took the materials to the Brickdam Police Station.

The persons who were in the camp were seen headed to the environs of Stabroek Market after the camp was dismantled.

The removal of the tent left the area in a filthy state, with numerous disposable food boxes and other material scattered about, changing the face of an otherwise beautiful thoroughfare that is Main Street.