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Jul 30, 2001

Bus riders and police battle at Tower Hill Bridge

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Covering pitched battles between police and protestors is fortunately not a story we have to do very often. But today at the Tower Hill Bridge a controversy over bus transport erupted into violent confrontation, the likes of which has not been seen in twenty years. Ann-Marie Williams and Brent Toombs were on hand and have just returned with the story.

Ann-Marie Williams, Reporting

It started out with the Commissioner of Transport, Glenn Arthurs, refusing to renew the permits for Tillett and Castillo buses to transfer their northern passengers into Belize City.

Glenn Arthurs, Transport Commissioner

“What we’ll do is to look for an amicable solution, ensuring that we do not over crowd busses running from villages or from town to city.”

Ann-Marie Williams

“It that increasing their run? How many runs do they both have right now?”

Glenn Arthurs

“Both companies have two runs each to Belize City.”

Ann-Marie Williams

“And they’re asking for how many?”

Glenn Arthurs

“I’m not sure. That’s the problem, because they refuse to sit down and talk in a more convenient way. There’s a lot of commuters complaining and making noise and you can’t get any where by protesting this way.”

Ann-Marie Williams

“What happen to all these people, some of them have been here since 7:00 this morning to try to get access to go over to Orange Walk, and those who want to come into the city? Are you concerned for them?”

Glenn Arthurs

“Yes I am because as I said, this is an offence. Anybody who blocks a public road is committing an offence and I’m trying to inform all of the people who are doing it that it is illegal. If they want a peaceful solution, this is not the right way to get a peaceful solution.”

Amelio Tillett, Owner, Tillett’s Bus Line

“The bus came from San Felipe this morning, heading for Belize, then the transport department were by the junction there, the Guinea Grass junction, and they just stopped the bus right there and the people start to come out the bus and…”

Ann-Marie Williams

“You were driving at that time?”

Amelio Tillett

“No, I was not driving. Well the driver stopped the bus and called me and I came to see what was happening.”

Ann-Marie Williams

“When you came, what did you see?”

Amelio Tillett

“I see that they already blocked the road and the people…”

Ann-Marie Williams

“They who blocked the road?”

Amelio Tillett

“The driver from the bus.”

Ann-Marie Williams

“Your bus driver blocked the road in order for?”

Amelio Tillett

“Yes. For the commuters. Then the people start to puncture the bus and all kinds of things.”

Andrew Bowman, Spokesman for Castillo’s

“I think what they’re trying to do is squeeze Mr. Castillo out of it on his own. They gave him his permit under the stipulation that you cannot pick anybody up in Orange Walk or the road.”

Ann-Marie Williams

“So who do they want to pickup people, because the people have to go to Belize?”

Andrew Bowman

“I guess, my opinion is they want to give all the runs, the majority of the runs to Northern Transport or to T-Line. That’s a new bus service that got runs and I don’t know how it got their runs.”

Arthurs stopped the buses in the vicinity of the toll bridge around 5:15 a.m., took out the passengers and that’s where they stayed for over twelve hours; determined not be moved, at least not empty handed.

Bus Rider #1

“I don’t know why they’re doing it. I believe that it is politics, because they know the Tillett family is UDP. But this demonstration is not only UDP, we are united PUP and UDP for this cause.”

Ann-Marie Williams

“Which one is too expensive?”

Bus Rider #2

“The Novelo’s Bus.”

Ann-Marie Williams

“You feel like you’ve been cheated out?”

Bus Rider #2

“Sure.”

Ann-Marie Williams

“How long have you been out here?”

Bus Rider #2

“From 5 o’clock this morning.”

Ann-Marie Williams

“You planning on staying out here if things don’t improve?”

Bus Rider #2

“Yes ma’am.”

It seemed that the bus owners and Arthurs reached an amicable solution. That’s when Arthurs told Tillett, and Castillo’s spokesman, Bowman, to remove the busses blocking the roads and then he’ll a fix his signature on the permit, extending their licence.

While both men agreed to comply, protestors became irate as they felt they were being taken for a ride. They armed themselves with stones, sticks and bottles, then hell broke loose.

The police made an attempt to find the bus drivers, but it was futile. Most of the tyres at that time were flat. Protestors made sure the busses were unable to move.

Ann-Marie Williams

“Commissioner Arthurs is hoping to reach an amicable solution with the commuters. He’s doing that with the help of the Dragon Unit and B.D.F. in riot gear. But commuters: men, women and children say they’re not going home.”

After intense negotiations, the riot act was read and the B.D.F. moved in. (soldiers advancing on the crowd, shooting tear gas)

Protesters were angry and they stoned the B.D.F. mercilessly, injuring two of them. When they ran out of tear gas, it was free reign for the mob.

Police officers fired above the crowd in hope to disperse the angry bunch, but it was to no avail.

When negotiations began again, and the protests died down, the disorderly crowd burnt tyres in the middle of the toll bridge, keeping the security forces at bay. Ann-Marie Williams for News 5.

During the riot two people were shot, one in the hand and the other in the leg. Around five p.m. Commissioner of Transport Glen Arthurs gave the two bus lines a two-week extension, and by newstime the Northern Highway was once again open to traffic. Arthurs has scheduled a meeting tomorrow in Belmopan with the bus owners to discuss the issue.

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