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NDP supporters ram Parliament Gate

NDP supporters ram Parliament Gate

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Defiant New Democratic Party (NDP) supporters turned the heat on the Unity Labour Party (ULP) administration last Friday with a vociferous protest on Back Street, in Kingstown, against proposed amendments to two Bills.{{more}}

The protest was staged to prevent the amendments to the Criminal Procedure Code, which requires that citizens filing private criminal complaints need the permission of the Director of Public Prosecution (DPP) to do so. The NDP also staged the protest to prevent the Government from repealing two sections of the Representation of the People Act, as well as removal of the exemption on stamp duties, which allowed family members to hand over property to other relatives tax-free.

But despite the mid-afternoon bacchanal outside Parliament, the amendment to Section 69 of the Criminal Procedure Code successfully passed, close to midnight Friday.

During the protest, Opposition Leader Arnhim Eustace rallied his supporters by stating: “Our reason for coming out here today is that we don’t want any of those two Bills to pass through [the] House of Assembly. We don’t want any of them to pass and the reason why we don’t want any of them to pass is that they are taking away your freedom.”

He did this while some members of the Opposition’s side remained in Parliament to debate the bills.

“It doesn’t matter who you are, it doesn’t matter which party you support, we cannot stand by idly and allow those bills to pass in the Parliament of St.Vincent and the Grenadines today,” said Eustace.

On the issue of the proposal to abolish exemption of the stamp duties, Eustace told the crowd that the Dr.Ralph Gonsalves led Government wants to put holes into their pockets.

“That is a wicked act! That is a wicked act on the part of Gonsalves,” said Eustace.

The Prime Minister had however announced the night before that he had changed his mind about abolishing the exemption on stamp duties for transactions between spouses and from parent to child.

Later, the protest turned ugly and tense when news broke that the amendments to the Criminal Procedure Code Bill had gone through their second reading. Several metal barriers placed by police at the side of the road to keep protestors in check in the vicinity of the Vegetable Market and the House of Assembly were knocked over.

At this point, Burton Williams, a former member of Parliament and Minister of Health, joined a group of protestors in using the metal barriers to ram the gates of the House of Assembly in an attempt to storm the House of Assembly, which was heavily guarded by Special Service Unit and Rapid Response Unit officers.

Williams, who ran unsuccessfully for the NDP in the December 13, 2010 elections in the South Windward constituency, had spent most of the day in the blistering heat of sun stirring up the crowd gathered. He told the gathering that having to seek the DPP’s permission first to file a complaint is not freedom.

“We want freedom in this country,” said Williams quite passionately. He added the NDP is prepared to fight for freedom in St.Vincent and the Grenadines.

He made an appeal to the crowd to commit themselves to stage further protests if the Bills are passed by Gonsalves.

“Brothers and sisters, fellow Vincentians, I want you all to commit yourselves today and understand that if Ralph Gonsalves make the mistake and pass that law, this country will come out,” said Williams.

He was also joined at the forefront by Senators Vynnette Frederick and Anesia Baptiste, as well as Anesia’s husband Calvert Baptiste.

Frederick told the protestors the time had come for them to stand up for their rights.

She said Government officials were trying to use the law to protect themselves against the freedom and rights of the people.

Frederick said the ULP members of Parliament are happy not to let their supporters know what they are doing.

“But I am standing here today for all the supporters of the ULP who don’t know that today, today, today, they are going to pass a law inside that Parliament to take away your rights,” said Frederick.

Calvert, who had previously played a quiet supportive role at his wife’s side,

for the first time took centre stage when

he delivered remarks in Friday’s protest, challenging protesters to fight for their freedom.

Calvert said the ULP brought out the masses in 2001, but were not deterred by the police. However, in 2011, when protesters stand to demand “their God-given rights”, the police had been brought out against them.

“Anesia is a citizen of this country, she has not broken any law, and she, like anybody else, has the right to exist here as a human being. I will stand in defence of my rights, the rights of my wife, and all Vincentians,” said Calvert.

He added: “We want freedom in this country. Freedom is all we want in this country.”

At one stage in Friday’s protest, a group of Special Service Unit officers ran to the nearby Central Police Station on Bay Street, when they realized that the protestors had gone beyond protesting with placards.

Some protestors expressed that they thought that the SSU officers had gone for tear-gas, but they came back with riot shields and a fire truck, which was driven across the road near to the St.Vincent and the Grenadines Building and Loan Association.

The parked truck resulted in Prime Minister Gonsalves’ security detail having to use the back route above Her Majesty’s Prisons to take him away. The protestors started shouting that Gonsalves was running.

However, later Friday afternoon when the Prime Minister returned to Parliament, he entered through the main entrance.

Addressing parliament when the sitting resumed, the Prime Minister said he left the house after eating lunch, because he did not want anyone to be under the impression that he had been “falsely imprisoned”.

“After I left, I was very disappointed that there was a vehicle, for the police, that had blocked that side of the road so I could not go out on the main street, so I had to be driven over McKies Hill. But I insisted on returning, that I return through the front gate, as I always do when I come to this Honourable house,” he said.

The amendment to Section 51 of the Representation of the People Act has been adjourned to Tuesday, February 8.