Headlines      Issue Released April 7 2004


Veterans: Acclaimed devotional singers Shri Prakash Gossai (right) and Pt. Munilal Maharaj (left) with tabla maestro Tony Ramessar held 1000 persons in rapt attention last Sunday at the Travelodge Hotel, Hwy 401 and Keele St, in a 5-hour session of bhajans and film songs. The programme was sponsored by the newly formed Hanuman Temple and Centre for Religious & Cultural Research and was organized by the indefatigable Ramesh Ramkalawan to mark the occasion of Hanuman Jayanti. Dances were provided by the Sanskriti Dance School. 


Shouter Baptists vent

Downtown hotel apologetic after group evicted

By Sandra Chouthi
Special to Indo Caribbean World

Port-of-Spain - Religious tolerance took the media spotlight late last month following an incident in Port-of-Spain when a group of 17 Shouter Baptist elders was thrown out of the Crowne Plaza Hotel. The affair occurred on March 26, just three days before the public holiday marking Spiritual Baptist Liberation Day. The group was evicted from the Wrightson Road hotel after elders met to attend a seminar hosted by the Rose Foundation, an event paid for by the Solid Waste Management Company Ltd (SWMCOL).
Media shy hotel owner Issa Nicholas, said on April 2 that SWMCOL was a good customer and had acted on good faith, but that management was yet to receive a letter from the company stating its intent to host the Spiritual Baptists. Nicholas asked that all parties put the incident behind them and move on.
The public was first alerted to the incident after an article appeared exclusively in the March 27 issue of the Guardian. The article said Swedish sales manager Klas Charles-Harris questioned the Baptists' presence at the hotel and ordered them out. That day Charles-Harris could not be reached for comment. The following day, two officials of Crowne Plaza (previously called the Holiday Inn), visited the Guardian newsroom anxious to pay for a last minute advertisement apologising for the incident.
The boldly placed advertisement read in part: "All preparations were in place for the function to go ahead as planned. However, another group appeared for this function without our knowledge. We acknowledge the Spiritual Shouter Baptist Community (in bold) as an integral and important part of our society. We wish to make it abundantly clear that the misunderstanding resulted merely because of the circumstances and was in no way connected with the identity of the Spiritual Shouter Baptist Community as such."
Articles in the daily papers of April 2 stated that Charles-Harris had been sent on leave pending an official report and investigation into the matter. The elders who showed up at the hotel for the event on March 26 immediately called a media conference to inform the public of the incident. While Crowne Plaza officials were most apologetic, some members of the Shouter Baptist community then suggested that the hotel should be sued for discrimination. 
Amilius Murrain, Baptist Archbishop and treasurer of the Inter-Religious Organisation (IRO), said on March 30 that the community had decided to take legal action against Crowne Plaza, that its elders were discussing the matter with their lawyers.
On March 29, Archbishop Monica Randoo called on Crowne Plaza to pay at least (Can) $1 million in compensation. "That figure has not yet been settled because we will have to seek legal advice and quantify the damages caused," Murrain said. At least one high profile government minister was not as easily forgiving. Culture Minister Joan Yuille-Williams, who has occasionally acted as Prime Minister and is close to Prime Minister Patrick Manning, described Charles-Harris on March 30 as most ignorant about religion in Trinidad and Tobago.
Speaking to Baptists at observances at City Hall, Port-of-Spain, Yuille-Williams said: "When I sat and spoke with Charles-Harris, a Swede, and I listened to him, clearly he is not a part of what happens in Trinidad and Tobago. He was one of the most ignorant persons I've found for a long time where religion is concerned."
She added: "My first and continuing feeling is of absolute shock and horror. While there is an element of shock and horror, there is a consciousness that laws and the Constitution would not entirely eradicate those sentiments in the heart of some based on their ignorance."
Manning was more conciliatory than Yuille-Williams. Having attended at least three separate Shouter Baptist functions on March 30, he said on April 1 at a post-Cabinet news conference that he was certain the Baptist community would put the incident behind them and move on.
"If we don't forgive, how can we expect forgiveness ourselves?" Manning asked on March 30 at three functions at Maloney African Lands, Orange Grove Lands and City Hall, Port-of-Spain.
He said the incident was a gross error and both the hotel and the official concerned have since apologised. He said Baptists should be guided by the words of St Paul: "Forgetting those things that are behind, let us press on. That is behind us."
The stand-off between elders in the Spiritual Baptist community and Klas Charles-Harris came to an end last Friday. The elders met with Crowne Plaza owner Issa Nicholas and later held a media conference. Episcopus Archbishop Barbara Gray-Burke said the matter was properly ventilated after the two parties met, that there was a misunderstanding.
"I am now quite satisfied after finding out what happened," Gray-Burke said. "We have already accepted the apology and are prepared to walk forward. "As proof of their forgiveness, the elders have asked Charles-Harris to return to his job as the hotel's sales manager. 
The front pages of daily newspapers of April 3 splashed photos of Charles-Harris smiling and hugging Gray-Burke and Archbishop Monica Randoo.


BWIA's future up in the air

Port-of-Spain - The Trinidad and Tobago government is now deciding whether to keep pumping millions of dollars into the debt-ridden national airline, BWIA, or close it down. 
One of the submissions the media reported on Monday was an injection of (TT) $250 million to pull the organisation out of the red. This comes on the heels of yet another threatening letter from International Leasing Finance Company to seize one of the airline's aircraft. 
Trade and Industry Minister Kenneth Valley confirmed earlier this week that "phase one" of a plan of "ensuring the net worth" of BWIA was going before Cabinet, which included correcting the balance sheets and finding ways to "stop the haemorrhaging" of taxpayers money 
He said that "the second phase" would include "the way forward" and airline consultants were currently working on ways to enable BWIA to operate efficiently. 




Criminal gangs return after lull

Georgetown — The crime wave that swept across the lower East Coast Demerara during 2002-mid 2003 but which appeared to have abated in the months following the killing of several prominent criminals by the “phantom squad,” has once again returned. Bandits are wantonly robbing, beating and sexually assaulting persons in their homes in the neighbouring villages of Buxton. And, as in the past, the victims are predominantly Indo Guyanese.
While terrorizing the households the criminals have reportedly told victims that they are robbing to acquire money to buy more weapons to continue the "fight." 
Just over two weeks ago, fifteen bandits beat and robbed two families in Lusignan carting off $1M in cash and jewellery. 
Zarina Singh who lives at the Lusignan Railway Embankment said her family was watching television around 7:30 p.m. when the gunmen stormed into the house. She said that the men beat her and then tied her up, one of them struck her in the head with a gun butt. 
Singh said that after failing to find cash, they continued to severely beat her and went to her daughter's adjacent apartment where they found cash and jewellery. 
Singh's husband, Dino returned home to be greeted with a gun to his head. He was kicked around the house after he told the men there was nothing left to steal. Singh said she cried out for water and when her grandchild got up to get her a glass, one bandit pushed the child to the ground and walked on her face.
In their haste to display their air of conquest, the bandits placed a gun to the head of Dino's friend and ordered him to drink a bottle of rum that was in the home. The young man complied but was beaten after he was finished. 
Another family just a few yards away was also reportedly robbed by the gang and the female members sexually assaulted. The bandits then beat the man and his wife and made a haul of an undisclosed amount of cash and jewellery.
The man said that the police sent a message saying that they had no time to visit his home since it was too far from the road and the place was dark. 
On March 8th, bandits carrying high-powered weapons, entered Beterverwagting (BV) and robbed Bibi Zamroo Nisha of Canterbury Walk and Janet Price who resides a few doors away from Nisha. The bandits carted off substantial amounts of cash and jewellery from the victims.
On Tuesday of last week, Ralvin Maynard of BV was shot in his legs and robbed, when four heavily armed bandits stormed his Side Line Dam business premises while he was closing up his shop. The men, armed with sub-machine guns, robbed Maynard of G $100,000. 
On the same day, Dhanraj Lall and his wife Parbatie Manick of Better Hope who operate a grocery shop, were robbed of G $50,000. The bandits threatened to shoot them if they did not surrender their jewellery.
On Wednesday of last week, Shazad Hakim of Shazad Touchdown Bar of Agriculture Road Triumph ECD was robbed of some $100,000 by two armed bandits in a white car. He was just closing the bar around 9 p.m. when two men with guns accosted him and relieved him of $100,000.
Shailendra Persaud, 32, of Enmore East Coast Demerara was delivering goods in Victoria when an armed gunman on a bicycle struck him in the head and carted off G $100,000 in cash.
On March 30, three bicycle bandits robbed and beat a young carpenter of Non Pariel, East Coast Demerara as he was heading to work. Around 6 a.m. the young man was alone on the Non Pariel railway embankment when the three men, all armed with guns, rode past, and then suddenly turned on him. He was stripped of a gold ring and his wallet. The men slapped him a few times and left.
A Non Pariel resident reported that men on bicycles were usually seen patrolling the Non Pariel railway embankment posing a danger to innocent passers by. 
And on Friday night last, around 10 p.m., Mohamed Hussein Ibrahim, the Iranian Director of the International Islamic College for Advanced Studies (IICAS) was dragged from his car by a group of gunmen just outside the IICAS premises at 42B United Nations Place. The men also shot and injured Raymond Halley, another official of the institution.
The recently trained anti-kidnapping squad was deployed to track down Ibrahim but up to press time the squad has not come up with any leads about the cleric’s whereabouts. 
Meanwhile, Police Commander for the affected East Coast Division, Edward Mills, visited the areas and urged members of the area to form community-policing groups. He promised to have police mobile support for the community policing groups.
And Cabinet Secretary, Roger Luncheon has told the media that the upswing in crime means that the police has some "unfinished business" in the East Coast. He added that Home Affairs Minister, Ronald Gajraj has been instructed to oversee the formation of community policing groups to fight the upswing in crime.
Speaking at a PNCR weekly press conference last week, central executive member Lance Carberry said the images of brutality and assault witnessed recently in Beterverwagting, Triumph, Lusignan, Sophia and on the East Bank Demerara must be of grave concern to all Guyanese.
He said the plan of action "should focus on working closely with residents of the communities, taking suspects alive so that they could be interrogated, respecting the fundamental rights of citizens, and beefing up the rapid response capability of the Police Force."
In the midst of the mounting criminal acts perpetrated on some communities, Commissioner of Police Winston Felix made a statement that is very confusing to those affected by crime. Speaking to reporters following the opening of a police media workshop at Le Meridian Pegasus last Wednesday, Mr. Felix said: "Let me say it clearly to you, I do not like to use statistics when we talk about crime, because in the simplest terms statistics lie. I deal with how people feel about crime.”
The PPP/C met last week with the Police Commissioner and expressed concern over the reported criminal activities, noting that the attacks have become more brazen.
The PPP/C team was led by General Secretary, Donald Ramotar and included Senior Counsel, Bernard De Santos, Cyril Belgrave, both PPP/C members of parliament for Region Four and party activists from the East Coast.
The PPP/C delegation was given a briefing on the situation and an update on the work that is being done to curb criminal activity in the area. Several ideas were also suggested at the meeting, some of which the police promised to follow up.




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