At least four persons were confirmed dead and several others were injured as Police opened fire in Linden on the first day of a planned five-day protest against electricity rate hikes.
In the wake of the deaths soldiers and police have been sent to the town in efforts to bring calm, Police headquarters said last evening.
Lindeners reacted angrily to the shootings and several buildings were set on fire, including the office of the ruling People’s Progressive Party and the Guyana Revenue Authority. Fires also broke out at the office of the Guyana Power and Light Company and the nearby office of Linden Mining Company (Linmine) and the Kara Kara bridge.
The Linmine Secretariat was burnt flat. The Guyana Fire Service could not reach the building because the road was blocked. The fire service however managed to save the GRA building and the office of the People’s Progressive Party.
But before all this happened, the utility companies turned off water and electricity to Wismar and Linden. Prime Minister Sam Hinds later described this as “plain thuggery upon captive consumers by a utility provider.”
“Nothing like this would have happened; they started killing people,” said a woman who saw one of the men drop dead behind her.
Police opened fire after tear-gas and pellets did not detract protestors from blocking the main bridge which connects the wards of Wismar and Mackenzie.
Those confirmed dead are Ron Sommerset, Shemroy Bouyea, Lyndon Lewis, 38 and another man identified only by his last name Charles.
A female Lindener said that a policeman pointed a gun in her face as they demanded Lindeners get off the bridge. She said Lewis, one of the dead men, was being forced into a vehicle by the Police and he resisted and was moving away from the vehicle when he was shot in the back. When he dropped to the ground, he was shot in the face, the woman said.
Power supply was intermittent in the town during the day. Electricity is controlled by the government owned and controlled power company.
A fuel tanker was seen alight on the Wismar shore, while a truck and an excavator were set alight outside the GRA office at Linden.
The government on July 1 began implementing electricity rate hikes in the town which has traditionally benefitted from a subsidy. Last year, the subsidy amounted to $3 billion.
Lindeners consume two to three times more electricity than other Guyanese pay, the government stated and insisted it could no longer afford to do so.
Region Ten Chairman Sharma Solomon, said that the government is being stubborn and refuses to understand the grounds under which Lindeners are rejecting the increased tariffs.
“It is not that Lindeners don’t want to pay; the issue is that they are unable to pay,” Solomon stated.
A European Union funded project had put the unemployment rate in Linden at 70 percent. The town has an estimated 60, 000 people.
At the height of the protests, Solomon called on President Donald Ramotar and the leaders of Parliamentary political parties to urgently address unemployment and infrastructural development.
All businesses in the town were closed. Roads which lead to the country’s gold mines were also blocked. There was no public transport between Linden and the City all day. In fact, except for the protestors, there was nothing on the streets. Offices were shut down; the boats refused to cross the river.
Earlier in the day, Lindeners from all corners of the town came out to protest what they consider to be the vengeful act by Government to impose increased electricity tariffs.
Instead of retreating off the bridge as was probably expected by the police, the protestors advanced towards the police, and refused to back down.
In the end it was the police, who were forced to retreat and drive away, amidst taunts and jeers from the people.
Yesterday’s protest saw persons from every walk of life taking to the streets, including mothers who came out with their babies.
Several Pastors from across Linden also joined the procession, which instead of proceeding to the Toucan Call Centre at Kara Kara, held its ground on the bridge, effectively blocking traffic from both sides of the river.
Persons who had travelled from remote areas such as Mahdia were forced to disembark on the Wismar Shore and trek across the bridge to Mackenzie where they were forced to seek alternative means of getting to Georgetown and other places.
The protest yesterday was the most massive to date.
In his letter, the Region Ten Chairman called on President Ramotar, the Leader of the Opposition David Grainger and Alliance for Change (AFC) Chairman Khemraj Ramjattan to collectively address a range of issues with urgency.
These are: Infrastructural development; the mechanisms for the creation of jobs in the Region; the reintroduction of the Regional land selection committee; generation, distribution and payment for electricity; education; bauxite mining and its impact; forestry and its impact; agriculture; Wismar/Mackenzie bridge; the national environmental tax; providing monies for the development of an Economic Plan for the region; road construction; and honouring Justice Chang’s 2008 ruling on television and radio licenses for Linden.
“The protracted delay in addressing the concerns of the citizens of Linden and Region Ten gives rise to the impression that this community is not on the national agenda,” Solomon stated.
He said the request for engagement is consistent with Articles 13, 38, 38A 77 and 149C of the Guyana Constitution, which expressly mandate citizens’ involvement in the management and decision-making processes that impact their well-being.
During yesterday, residents of Linden were involved in protest demonstrations against the rise in electricity tariff.
The Police version of the events was that at about 10:40h, approximately 450 persons marched from the Wismar Community Centre Ground, and on reaching the Wismar/Mackenzie bridge they remained there, “blocking the bridge and preventing motor vehicles from crossing.” Subsequently, the Police said, persons among the protestors which had grown to about 1,000 in number erected tents on the bridge and also placed derelict vehicles and logs across the bridge at several points.
The protestors remained on the bridge and refused to move despite efforts by the police under the Divisional Commander, the Police stated.
According to a statement, about 18:00 hrs, the Officer-in-Charge of the police riot unit which had arrived on the scene warned the protestors to remove as they were blocking the bridge and in breach of the law. They however continued to remain on the bridge while chanting that they will not remove and that they are not paying any increase in electricity tariff.
“The police again told the protestors that they were breaking the laws and that they should remove from the bridge, but they again refused and began hurling bottles, bricks and other missiles at the ranks of the police riot unit. At this stage the Officer-in-Charge of the unit again told them that they were unlawful and read the warning proclamation to them,” the Police stated.
They said the protestors continued hurling missiles at the police and began advancing towards the ranks and tear smoke grenades were used by the police in a further effort to remove the protestors.
Some of the protestors dispersed but a large number of persons still remained on the bridge and began setting fires on the bridge while continuing to chant and throw missiles towards the police, the statement added.
The Police said they discharged shotgun cartridges in the direction of the crowd resulting in a few persons being injured.
As at 22:30, the Police said they were unable to acquire sufficient information from the Mackenzie Hospital staff in order to verify the persons injured and the extent of their injuries as a hostile crowd gathered outside of the Hospital.
The protestors removed from the Wismar/Mackenzie bridge and proceeded to block the Washer Pond Road, Mackenzie, and also set fire to the GRA building on Washer Pond Road. Personnel from the Guyana Fire Service responded but were prevented from going into action by a number of protestors who threw missiles at the ranks and their vehicle.
They were subsequently removed by the police and proceeded to the five-corner area at the junction of Sir David Rose Avenue, Mackenzie, Police stated.
The Wismar/Mackenzie bridge was cleared by the police who said they were maintaining a presence and traffic is now traversing the bridge.
“Roving groups of protestors have also destroyed a truck transporting fuel which was set alight at Wismar and damaged an excavator and have also set fires along the roadway at Half Mile and One Mile, Wismar,” the Police said.
Additional police ranks have been dispatched to the community to reinforce the ranks already on the ground.
The Joint Services said they will be patrolling the area and are appealing to residents to remain calm.
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