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Nov 13, 2007

Charges fly in aftermath of sign confrontation

Story PictureIt was raw Belizean politics at its best–or worst, depending on your point of view–and today the reverberations were felt on both Queen and Regent streets. News Five’s Janelle Chanona has the story.

Janelle Chanona, Reporting
Following Monday’s melee over a political sign, today Belize City Councillor Mark King was formally accused of hurling indecent words at Senior Superintendent of Police Chester Williams. Stemming from the same incident, United Democratic Party supporter Goldburn “Easy Glen” Adolphus was also arraigned for obstructing a police officer.

[Mayor Moya hits camera]

Police say they are still reviewing tapes of the confrontation, but it is expected that tomorrow, Belize City Mayor Zenaida Moya is expected to be charged with assaulting Positive Vibes talk show host Vaughn Gill.

Zenaida Moya, Belize City Mayor
“I was out there to enforce, to ensure that the law was being adhered to, was being complied with. The people elected me to do so and I have no apologies in what I did.”

This afternoon Mayor Moya defended her actions, claiming Gill provoked and assaulted her before she did anything to him.

Zenaida Moya
“I know him as a known P.U.P. fanatic and in this day and age I will not trust any P.U.P. fanatic, especially one like Vaughn Gill who will stop at nothing to ensure that they, one, intimidate or attempt to intimidate, hurt, or try to cause injury to a person like myself.”

But according to Senior Superintendent of Police Chester Williams, if the City Council wanted to remove the sign, this was not the way to do it.

Sr. Supt. Chester Williams, Deputy Commander, Eastern Division
“The City Council Act does not say if anyone erects a sign, which is a violation of the City Council act that the City Council has the legal authority to just go and arbitrarily remove the sign. It is simply telling you about a court process and that is all we were trying to explain to the Mayor of Belize City and her councillors yesterday. But for some reason or the other they refused to understand.”

Zenaida Moya
“Whilst Mr. Williams will say we should have taken the matter to court, I am telling you we did take the matter in that instance when it came to property to court and it took over a year. They kept adjourning, they kept making excuses. They totally, completely disrespected the Belize City Council and this time the Belize City Council was not going to allow any–whether it’s the People’s United Party, whether it’s the Police Department—to go ahead and disrespect the laws of the land…”

Janelle Chanona
“It sounds a lot like you are taking the laws into your own hands.”

Zenaida Moya
“We as a people have been seeing time and time again that the law is not being adhered to. The Police Department should have ensured—should have enforced the law out there in terms of ensuring that that sign was taken down. I kept reading the laws to them and they didn’t do so.”

Responding to criticisms that officers were prepared to draw their weapons during the confrontation Williams says…

Senior Superintendent Chester Williams
“They were justified, they were just in a state of readiness. There’s a man with a power saw, it could only take him tripping or bucking on someone and that power saw could be a very deadly, deadly instrument. It is very, very dangerous. I don’t know if he is aware as to the danger that the power saw posed to people who were out there, not only to police officers but also the civilians who were out there watching what was occurring.”

Zenaida Moya
“They were not threatening anybody, but when the police officer pointed that gun at me, he was clearly not only disrespecting me and disrespecting my council workers, he was putting all of our lives at risk.”

Janelle Chanona
“But does two wrongs make a right?”

Zenaida Moya
“Two wrongs does not make a right. I’m telling you that the Police Department should have handled things completely better than what they did yesterday and they kept doing wrongs after wrongs.”

U.D.P. Leader Dean Barrow fully supports the City Council’s position against the People’s United Party sign. According to Barrow, in addition to the City Council Act, in June 1999, then P.U.P. Mayor David Fonseca implemented a bylaw giving the council even more legal footing to supervise signs, banners, and the like.

Dean Barrow, Leader of the Opposition
“That’s outlaw behaviour, they must know of the bylaw because it was passed by their City Council and by their Mayor. So obviously this was a determination on their part to ignore the law, to disrespect the City Council, to violate the law, and to say because our party is in Central Government, we can do as we please. I think that the City Council was entirely in order and in fact was required under the law to go and remove that encroachment.”

Henry Usher, Secretary General, People’s United Party
“This is clearly the U.D.P. trying to intimidate the P.U.P., trying to put us in a corner and say we will squeeze you as tight as we can squeeze you to make—to see where we’re going to break. And I just have one message to the U.D.P., we will not break, will find a way to get our message across.”

P.U.P. Secretary General Henry Usher insists all this is just politics at its worst.

Henry Usher
“One, we have never applied for a permit, we’ve never had to apply for any permit. Two, there is no legal standing for Zenaida Moya to charge us this fee. And three, there is now an agreement between the parties, it was done orally, but Mr. Singh gave me an undertaking that his party would support it. It’s not in writing, because it wasn’t signed, but he gave me an undertaking that his party would support this agreement.”

Janelle Chanona
“Anything else you want to say to the people of Belize City who are maybe saying everybody knows that the City Council runs things in the city, maybe you should have gone to them first or even if they are just saying that at the end of the day it’s a sign, that it shouldn’t have gotten there. What do you say overall to the public?”

Henry Usher
“Well the City Council needs to understand that there’s a procedure. They talk about procedures all the time. We were never informed that this sign was a problem. This sign has been up for two weeks, why all of a sudden yesterday the sign had to come down? We were not told that the sign shouldn’t have been there. This is something that the City Council needs to do as well, they can’t carry out ad hoc procedures when they feel like doing it.”

But because the police were preventing the removal of the sign, the U.D.P.s say Senior Superintendent Chester Williams is acting very much like a political pawn.

Dean Barrow
“Chester Williams is guilty of an offence. Of course there’s no way he’s going to be charged by the police, there is no way the police are going to charge themselves, but it just makes it absolutely plain that he was there to do the bidding of his political masters of the Minister of Police, not to administer the law, not to carry out his duties without fear or favour.”

Senior Superintendent Chester Williams
“But I must categorically say that the police was not out there to support the P.U.P., but rather we were out there to ensure that law and order was maintained. Basically the U.D.P. acted in such a boisterous way, which I find it very, very surprising that they are supposed to be professional people. And I am not afraid to say it, I am very much surprised at the Mayor to be a duly elected member of the council, the head of the city, to be acting the way she acted out there was very, very unprofessional.”

Tonight the police and both political parties agree that with perhaps as much as four more months of canvassing before general elections, Monday’s episode should not be a sign of things to come.

Senior Superintendent Chester Williams
“They could sit down and try to mitigate things, I must applaud Mr. Henry Usher yesterday. He was very calm right through the entire situation and I believe that it is more people like that we need on the forefront with both political parties to show a positive image of what both parties need to reflect in a time of election.”

Henry Usher
“I just want to say to the Belizean public, that the People’s United Party is here challenging this election, we are here defending our people, defending the positions that we take and we will get our message across.”

Dean Barrow
“Fair is fair, right is right. If we both agree to not just respect one another, but to respect the law, respect the fact that the P.U.P. is the national government, the U.D.P. is the municipal government for each and every single town, in the this country, then I think we can in fact do things in a civilized manner and we can proceed to have our elections without any kind of violence or threat of violence.”

Reporting for News Five, I am Janelle Chanona.

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