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19 arrested at rice farmers’ protest; calm returns

A grouo of the rice farmers and other persons at Three Friends Village, Essequibo Coast.

At least 19 persons, who were allegedly involved in an illegal protest on the Essequibo Coast, on Saturday remained in police custody as an assessment of the situation continued, Police Commissioner Seelall Persaud said.

The Guyana Police Force later said in a statement that two tractors, four trailers, two motor cars and two motor cycles that were among the vehicles used to block the roadway have been seized during an operation to clear the area.

He confirmed that lawmen fired tearsmoke early Saturday morning  to disperse the estimated 100 persons who blocked the Essequibo Coast road at Three Friends Village.

Persaud said a team of senior police officers was expected to go the trouble-spot to assess the situation.  The Commissioner said the Divisional Commander has already engaged the leadership of the Alliance For Change (AFC). The Minister of Agriculture, Dr. Leslie Ramsammy has said that the protest was being orchestrated by a small group of rice farmers. “This is a small group of farmers who had pre-planned this,” he has told Demerara Waves Online News.

Persaud said calm has returned to the area and the situation was being monitored.

Although officials of the Guyana Rice Development Board (GRDB), Guyana Rice Producers Association (GRDB) and representatives of the millers have already met with rice farmers there, at least 100 persons blocked the main thoroughfare to protest incomplete payments by millers.

Expressing no confidence in Regional Chairman, Parmanand Persaud, who was escorted by police to address them, the farmers then lit tires and other items on a bridge to press demands for the Minister of Agriculture to go and speak with them.

Persaud believed that the protest was politically motivated. One of the organizers, AFC Councillor and Chairman of the Essequibo Paddy Farmers Association, Naith Ram was among those arrested. There were conflicting reports about whether he stripped or the police took off his clothing. The police later insisted that the lawmen never stripped him. “The Guyana Police Force emphatically reiterates that Naith Ram was not stripped by police ranks. He took off his own clothing after he had been taken away from the custody of the police by other protestors,” police spokesman, Ivelaw Whittaker said in a statement.

The Regional Chairman said two soldiers were beaten by protesters who believed that the security service members had gone there to break up the protest.  He said the rice farmers are demanding that government pay them all outstanding amounts.

Agriculture Minister Ramsammy  has said that the millers have already paid 85 percent of the  GUY$24 billion in debt.