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Extra security deployed

Published: 
Tuesday, February 20, 2018

A small battalion of heavily armed soldiers and police were deployed to communities of East Port-of-Spain yesterday evening, as law enforcement agencies braced for continued protests from residents last night.

The protest action, which virtually ground all activity in East Dry River to a halt for much of yesterday, stemmed from an incident in which 25-year-old Akel “Christmas” James was shot and killed by police during a raid on his home at Basilon Street early yesterday morning.

The protest caused the closure of dozens of businesses, at least half a dozen primary schools and three health centres in Upper Laventille, Oxford Street and George Street.

The well co-ordinated action began before 6 am as irate residents hijacked a group of privately-owned garbage trucks contracted to the Port-of-Spain City Corporation and ordered the drivers to empty their contents at various strategic locations. The residents then ignited the heaps of rubbish as they vocally protested over James’ death. (See page A4)

When the T&T Guardian visited the community yesterday morning, teams of police and soldiers were forced to stand by as residents evaded them by moving freely through tracks and lanes, while communicating their locations through a series of coded messages passed between limers at various street corners.

A video clip posted on social media showed a group of officers wrestling with a group of protesters at the corner of Observatory and Charlotte Streets, before one officer fire a series of warning shots, causing residents to run away.

By 10 am, fire officers were called in to assist in extinguishing the burning debris which blocked Observatory, Bath, Oxford, Basilon, Charlotte and Piccadilly Streets. Uniformed members of the T&T Defence Force were seen driving the corporation’s trucks and backhoes as they worked to clear the roads to allow the resumption of vehicular traffic.

Port-of-Spain Mayor Joel Martinez was on hand to survey the damage and coordinate the clearing of the roads, which ended shortly after midday.

In a telephone interview with the T&T Guardian, Martinez described the protest as unacceptable. “It is not right. People cannot take the law into their own hands and riot on the street when the police are trying to bring law and order to society,” Martinez said as he confirmed that the alleged threats made to garbage collectors would be investigated.

“It has impeded the progress of the city, as they have again blocked the roads and obstructed it from functioning. It is absolutely unacceptable,” he added.

Martinez said he would meet with acting Police Commissioner Stephen Williams to discuss how to prevent further acts of civil disobedience in the future.

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