Anna-Lisa Paul and Bobie-Lee Dixon
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Archie defends officers outside Parliament: It was to avoid confrontation
Police officers who were assigned duties outside the Parliament building on Tuesday moved protesters from the pavement to avoid any confrontation with opposing groups. So said Supt Joanne Archie, public relations officer of the Police Service, in response to criticism that police officers used excessive force against protesters.
Speaking at the weekly police press briefing at Riverside Plaza, Port-of-Spain, Archie claimed police officers removed the protesters who were obstructing the pavement outside the International Waterfront Complex at Wrightson Road. “We avoid as far as possible getting into confrontations, either verbal or physical, with protesters. We urge the public to cooperate with us. We are not there to use unnecessary force or to terrorise anyone,” Archie said.
She denied that the police officers acted maliciously during their clash with protesters campaigning against the Constitution (Ammendment) Bill 2014. Archie claimed they were deployed to preserve the peace and exercise crowd control. “All we are asking is hold passionate to your cause, it’s democracy at work but please do so within the confines of the law,” Archie said.
The bill, which seeks to change the electoral process by introducing a runoff provision, the right to recall MPs and establishing fixed term limits for prime ministers, has been met with public criticism and protest since it was laid in Parliament on August 4. Tensions reached boiling point on Tuesday as the debate of the bill began in the Senate. Several protesters were detained by police but were later released. No one was charged.
Archie also rejected claims from PNM protesters who claimed they were unfairly targeted by police while People’s Partnership activists who were supporting the bill and who were also present, were left alone. “As police officers we are here to ensure the safety and protection of all citizens regardless of race, creed or class or political affiliation and we remain impartial,” Archie said.
While Archie said the Police Service supported citizens exercising their rights to assemble peacefully and their freedom of expression, she warned that permission was required from the Police Commissioner to stage marches and public rallies.
Archie said a written request which should include details of the event or march should be sent to the Commissioner within 14 days before the march to obtain approval. She also said the Commissioner was entitled to review the application and add conditions, if he believed there was a great potential of a breach of the peace or public disorder.