Disunity mars PNC/R march
Faction demonstrates outside cricket ground By Nigel Williams
Stabroek News
April 13, 2002

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Disunity yesterday marred the PNC/R's street protest against extra-judicial killings and the continued operation of the Target Special Squad (TSS).

On Tuesday the party held its first protest following the death of Buxtonian Shaka Blair and had also set Thursday midnight as the deadline for the disbandment of the TSS. The government has said it is not disbanding the TSS and the party followed up with the march yesterday, saying that it was prepared to protest until the members of the squad were arrested and charged. But unlike Tuesday, the demonstration yesterday was mired in confusion, accompanied by verbal assaults directed at senior members of the party. It was also much smaller than Tuesday's gathering.

The procession moved off from the Square of the Revolution at about 12:30 pm and proceeded west into Brickdam with persons carrying banners and a number of placards. While on Brickdam they displayed their slogans and maintained order. Like on Tuesday they made brief stops in front of the Brickdam Police Station and the Home Affairs Ministry, where they shouted the names of the minister and the head of the TSS and levelled derogatory remarks. Their actions and chants turned into mirth as those who were watching from their offices could be seen laughing and even some of the protesters burst into laughter.

They entered Avenue of the Republic proceeding north, but by this time their presence caused a heavy traffic build-up and many mini-bus operators were forced to abandon their trips and wait in a long line before the procession moved on. The protesters turned east along Regent Street, which saw the proprietors of many stores closing their doors again and affixing padlocks. Some of the marchers moved along the pavement, while the larger throng blocked the street. At the corner of Regent and Camp streets, in the vicinity of the National Bank of Industry and Commerce Ltd, chaos erupted. The procession was to proceed north along Camp Street, but when the leader of the march, PNC/R General Secretary, Oscar Clarke instructed them to do so, many of them downed their placards and abandoned the march. The larger faction insisted that they should march to the corner of the GCC ground where the first cricket test between West Indies and India is currently being played.

For over 30 minutes, Clarke pleaded with the marchers to keep to the route schedule as this was what permission had been sought and granted for, but certain persons in the crowd succeeded in persuading many of the protesters to continue east along Regent Street. At this point Clarke was verbally abused, with many of them accusing him of "selling out." But while most of the protesters were in opposition to Clarke, another group lamented that those who diverted from the scheduled route had cast the party in poor light. One man told this newspaper that what transpired yesterday was testimony to what had marred many protests the party had held in the past. After the stand-off, Clarke and a group of about 80 persons continued along the prescribed route, while the other faction marched in haste to the GCC ground.

Clarke's group turned east along Church Street, south along Vlissengen Road and ended at the Square of the Revolution.

Meanwhile, the other faction, continued along Regent Street, shouting, "No Justice No Cricket," as they marched close to the cricket ground. When they arrived at New Garden Street a large party of policemen in bulletproof vests and guns at the ready, disembarked from a blue and white vehicle. Some of the marchers stood their ground, while others scampered for cover.

For a little more than an hour the splinter crowd stood guard behind barricades put up for the cricket match, carefully watched by ranks with batons and guns. A few visitors at the cricket match left the game and were seen taking pictures of the crowd, much to the delight of the protesters some of whom deliberately positioned themselves in front of the visitors' cameras. However, order was evident as the police allowed no one to move beyond the barricades. They were eventually chased from behind the barriers and later converged in the compound of the Guyana Public Service Union. They remained there for some time before they were ordered out of the compound at which time they returned to the road. All during this time they chanted "no justice no cricket," but those in attendance at the GCC ground were too overtaken by the majestic stroke-play of Carl Hooper to pay them any mind.

While this standoff was in process, PNC/R Leader, Desmond Hoyte, who was slated to address them at the end of the march, turned up at the Square of the Revolution. Informed of the confusion, Hoyte looked disturbed and wasted little time getting back into his vehicle and leaving. Word of this was relayed to the faction outside Bourda and they quickly went to the Square, where quarrels broke out among them. Some of the women openly attacked Clarke and other top officials of the party. Many, who had not marched, but were waiting for the procession at the Square went away distraught.

In an invited comment, Clarke told this newspaper that because the ultimatum to disband the TSS was not complied with, the PNC/R stood ready and committed to protest until their demands were met. According to Clarke, what transpired with regards to the confusion with the march was that some of the protesters were bent on doing their own thing. He said that his party had stated from the beginning that it was going to be involved in a peaceful march and had he proceeded to walk with the other faction it would have been unlawful. He maintained that he was guided by the route schedule approved by the GPF and wasn't too bothered with those who went their separate ways.

Clarke informed that on Monday before his funeral, Blair's body would be taken to the square for viewing, after which they will continue to protest, with the procession taking the East Coast Demerara road to Buxton.