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Richmond Hill’s Guyanese rally for nation’s harmony

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“What we’re asking is for the leaders and the president and the opposition to commence a...

By Jennifer Warren

Richmond Hill’s Guyanese community has recently mobilized to protest the post-electoral violence that has erupted in the immigrants’ South American homeland.

“What we’re asking is for the leaders and the president and the opposition to commence a national dialogue as to how the country can move forward,” said Dhanpaul Narine, a community leader and an organizer of an April 7 rally.

The rally, held at the Masjid Al Abidin mosque on 127th Street in Richmond Hill, drew more than 300 people, both of Indo and African-Guyanese descent.

Guyanese Prime Minister Sam Hinds and Ronald Gajraj, minister of home affairs, communicated with the rally by webcast.

Queens’ Guyanese community, which is estimated at about 200,000, is concentrated largely in Richmond Hill, Ozone Park and Jamaica.

While Guyanese immigrants are several thousand miles away from their homeland, New York City, Miami and Toronto are among the fund-raising strongholds for Guyanese political parties, which hold $100-a-plate breakfasts.

“Since some of the funding comes from here,” said Narine, “we feel they have a right to listen to us.”

Rally organizers developed a 10-point plan of reconciliation and following the gathering sent it to Guyanese officials.

The violence is the most recent episode in a long history of conflict between the country’s two dominant communities — Indian and African — and their corresponding political parties.

The People’s Progressive Party Civic, whose Indo-Guyanese candidate, Bharrat Jagdeo, won the presidential election March 19 with about 53 percent of the vote, has yet to be recognized by his opponent, Hugh Desmond Hoyte of the People’s National Congress.

Hoyte, who is black, received about 42 percent of the country’s vote. That outcome was identical to the racial split of the country, which is 42 percent black and 53 percent Indian, said Guyanda Shivnaraine, a community leader and member of the Board of Education’s Interfaith Advisory Council.

“These people hate each other,” Shivnaraine said. “That’s exactly the way it came out. The people in power need to move forward and cut out this nonsense and talk about issues.”

While the two party leaders have yet to agree on the election outcome, Hoyte has accepted an offer to meet with Jagdeo and has sent an emissary to arrange the visit, according to websites.

“Just because they’re meeting, it doesn’t guarantee anything,” said Astab Karimullah, who presents the Guyanese news on Cable Channel 76’s Spotlight Television.

“I don’t think [Hoyte has] conceded yet,” Karimullah said. “Whether he’s agreed to meet him as president or as the leader of the PPP, I’m not sure. It’s a subtle nuance that’s very important.”

Since the March 19 elections a woman was shot dead near the winning party’s headquarters in Guyana’s capital of Georgetown and 12 businesses along the city’s highly trafficked Regent Street were burned and looted, news reports said.

Highway bandits allegedly affiliated with the defeated People’s National Congress Reform Party blocked roadways with burning tires and demanded “tolls” before allowing residents to pass, the Guyana Chronicle reported.

In a statement released after the rally, the organizers told Guyana’s leaders “in the strongest terms, we condemn such lawlessness, and ask the authorities to bring the perpetrators swiftly to justice. It is only when this happens that the PPP-C government should begin the dialogue on power sharing.”

Reach reporter Jennifer Warren by e-mail at Timesledgr@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 155.

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