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Guyana riot police kill three, wound 20
Heavily-armed Guyanese riot police shot dead three protesters on Wednesday and wounded about 20 others after demonstrations against rising electricity costs. Protesters also burned several buildings, including the office of the ruling People’s Progressive Party, in the remote jungle town of Linden. Guyana’s President Donald Ramotar says he regrets the deaths and injuries caused by the shootings and that authorities will open an investigation once calm is restored to the area. Police are accused of firing bullets and tear gas at protesters, who hurled bottles and rocks and blocked the only river bridge connecting Linden—the country’s second largest town—to Brazil.
Riot police apparently lost patience as night fell on Wednesday and the bridge remained close to traffic. They opened fire on the demonstrators—some shot in the back as they ran—killing three, and injuring about 20, ten of whom remain hospitalised. Police say they were pelted with bottles, stones and other missiles, charges denied by Opposition leader David Granger of A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) and others.
Granger, a former army commander, said yesterday that Guyana’s police commander should be immediately suspended. The confrontation between the police and protesters had been building up for months, ever since Granger and a team from the main opposition party had discussed the issue of raising electricity rates for Linden, a depressed bauxite town 65 miles southwest of Georgetown. Most of the 30,000 people who live in the town, Guyanese of African origin in the main, feel that the Indo-led administration of President Ramotar deliberately raised the rates because Lindeners had voted overwhelmingly for Granger’s party. They felt the increases were based on vindictiveness and spite. But the government argued that all the authorities wanted to do was to bring rates in Linden on par with those in Georgetown and other coastal areas and so a stand-off ensued. This week, Lindeners took to the streets to protest the increases and agitate against a slew of social ills, including dust pollution from the bauxite plant run by China’s Boasi Minerals, high unemployment and the few opportunities for youths in the area.
They blocked the lone bridge connecting the city with the 350-mile road that leads to most of the gold, diamond and timber producing areas as well as the way through the jungle to Brazil, in addition to effectively closing down the town as sympathetic employers had even closed some stores and had been observing the protests on the sidelines. Angered by the shooting, which Granger said came without warning and was unprovoked, protesters burned buildings—most significantly the town office of the governing PPP—and vowed to strike back. The government immediately blamed the APNU and the Alliance For Change (AFC) for stirring up trouble and leaving demonstrators to face fire from police, saying it “sincerely regrets the loss of life and injuries as events took an unfortunate turn for the worse this evening in Linden. The government reiterates that the gradual increase in tariffs for Linden did not warrant such violent behaviour, especially when the rest of Guyana is paying the full rates,” a statement said.
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