|Protesters block airport road for 4 days||| Print ||
|Written by Richard Greenemail@example.com|
|Thursday, 10 March 2011 14:18|
A small group of protesters that had blocked the main road to the airport since early March 8, demanding that the U.K. set a date for local elections, have abandoned the blockade.
Police said that on Saturday, March 12, that they removed the the blockade and reopened the main access to the Providenciales International Airport.
"This was a non-confrontational action as the area of the demonstration was found abandoned," said police spokesman Sgt. Calvin Chase. "The police will continue to monitor the situation and continue to dialogue with interested parties to ensure public safety."
The Turks and Caicos Islands Airport Authority opened another entrance to the airport that had been closed for the airport expansion project, allowing vehicles carrying travelers to get to and from the airport.
American Airlines told the fp that one flight to Miami was canceled Wednesday night, March 9, and one on the morning of March 10. Other American flights were on schedule, and no other airlines reported cancellations.
"Yesterday operations went well with all schedule flights leaving on time with full compliment of booked passengers," John T. Smith, CEO of the Turks and Caicos Islands Airport Authority, said March 9. "The protest did impede free flowing access to the airport forcing the use of alternate route and resultant inconvenience to the traveling public."
The group calling itself the Turks and Caicos Islanders United for Justice and Equality (TCIUJE) notified the interim government March 4 that unless a date for elections was set by 4 p.m. Monday, March 7, that “a sustained campaign would begin,” the governor’s office said.
His Excellency the Gov. Gordon Wetherell said the demand was unreasonable, but that elections in 2012 would be “imminently possible.”
The U.K. government suspended local rule in August 2009 after allegations of corruption in the government that had plunged the country deep into debt, saying elections would be held in July. When that date could not be met, the U.K. extended its control indefinitely, saying it hoped to restore local government with elections in 2012. However, the TCI would have to first revise the country’s Constitution, address past government mismanagement and get the country’s finances in order.
The governor questioned the legality and effect of the protesters' actions.
“Not only is blocking (the road) illegal, it is also damaging to the TCI’s tourist industry causing hardship to local businesses and the many individuals employed in the industry,” the governor said.
The Turks and Caicos Hotel and Tourism Association issued a statement March 10 saying “that the demonstrations happening in Providenciales and now in Grand Turk are peaceful demonstrations and have in no way disturbed the main tourism areas in Providenciales, which is primarily Grace Bay.”
Interhealth Canada, which operates the Cheshire Hall Medical Centre on Providenciales, said the roadblock has caused minimal problems, but that there was potential for delaying emergency patients from reaching the hospital.
The protesters' actions drew criticism and concern from the Providenciales Chamber of Commerce: “The fallout from this type of action could be devastating to the economy. The chamber feels obligated to admonish these demonstrators to conduct their protest in a responsible manner that will achieve their objectives while respecting the rights of others who may not wish to participate in this action.
“Irresponsible behaviour will only be to the detriment of the business sector and the Turks and Caicos Islands reputation and economy on a whole.”
The TCIUJE issued a statement March 10 that said, in part, "We apologize to the tourists and citizens of our country for the inconvenience imposed on them by this protest. Our protest is not directed at you, and we profoundly regret any hardship that this situation has caused. We felt compelled however to stage this protest in this manner as all our efforts to get the attention of the governor's Office and the British government have been ignored."
The protesters, led by Ewonka Selver, Ron Higgs and Devon Williams, began around dawn Tuesday, March 8, in front of the Kishco store downtown. Two pickup trucks parked in the road near the intersection of Black Crow Road were joined with a heavy chain through the trucks’ wheels and padlocked around the waists of men sitting in the truck beds.
By 9 a.m. March 8, more than 100 onlookers — many unable to get to work at the airport and businesses beyond the roadblock — had gathered and watched about 30 protesters holding signs while Selver, Williams and others their vented grievances over a sound system.
Among those protesting or supporting the protesters were former Premier Michael Misick and members of his Progressive National Party (PNP) who are under investigation for allegations of misconduct that in part resulted in the suspension of elected government and parts of the Constitution.That evening, the YCIUJE has alleged that “police in riot gear stormed the streets, beating and macing protestors.” Police have not responded a request from the fp to address that allegation.
Both LIME and PPC Ltd. reported incidents of vandalism to cellular and electrical service that caused outages early Tuesday. No connection between the protest and the vandalism has been alleged, but police are investigating. Also, roofing nails were scattered on the road being used to access the airport, but no one has been accused of that.
The roadblock has moved about 100 metres closer to the airport than where it began, where a backhoe was extended across Airport Road, still blocking traffic today.
PNP Leader Clayton Greene issued a statement urging protesters to continue their efforts, saying “we must use every avenue at our disposal to advise the tourist of the nature of this struggle and reassure them that our protest is not directed at them. I am sure that they will understand and will in most cases gladly suffer the inconvenience.”
Doug Parnell, leader of the opposition People's Democratic Movement, said he was against the protest that threatens the tourism industry, the only thing keeping the country's economy afloat at this time.
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