Friday, July 30, 2010

ICU, Police clash at Castle

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By William Yaw Owusu

Friday July 30, 2010
What started as a peaceful demonstration by the Industrial and Commercial Workers’ Union (ICU) to protest against ‘killer’ utility tariffs almost turned ‘bloody’ when the police tried to stop the demonstrators from joining the leadership of the ICU at the Castle, Osu.

Some ICU executives, led by the Acting General Secretary Gilbert Awinongya, had gone to the Castle to present their petition to President J.E.A Mills to force the Public Utilities Regulatory Commission (PURC) to review the outrageous utility tariffs. The demonstrators decided to move to the Castle to join their leaders when the latter kept too long at the seat of government.

They had converged on the Independence Square as agreed upon with the police after embarking on a 45-minute march amid singing and dancing from the TUC Headquarters through to the Old Parliament House, Cocoa Affairs Court, Ministries Police Station and then to the parade grounds to await the outcome of the meeting of their executives with the President.

After about an hour of standing under the sun, they became ‘charged’ and started marching towards the Castle.

Some had alleged that if they did not go to the Castle their leaders could be ‘tipped’ by the government while others said once other demonstrators had always gone to the Castle they also had the right to be there.

The about 70 policemen on duty who were partially armed had it tough controlling the demonstrators who at that time were becoming very loud.

They started moving towards the Castle crossroads but were fiercely prevented by the police and some National Security operatives when they were about 50 meters to the crossroad where another batch of policemen ostensibly from the Castle who were heavily armed had taken position.

The incident created heavy vehicular and human traffic on the Tema Station-Osu stretch of the Accra-Tema road.

The police then called for re-inforcement and within a period of 35 minutes, heavily armed policemen wielding different riot control equipment, started arriving from the various divisions in the region.

The police after the re-inforcement managed to overpower the demonstrators and pushed them back to the parade grounds where out of frustration, most of the demonstrators left in their buses without waiting for their leaders to return from the Castle to brief them.

The professionalism with which the police handled the situation ensured that not a single bullet was fired or teargas canisters fired either.

The few that remained were carefully monitored by the police until the ICU leaders returned to the Castle to brief them on what had transpired.

Mr. Awinongya told them that they were met on arrival at the Castle by a Deputy Chief of Staff Ms. Valerie Sawyer and Samuel Okudzeto-Ablakwa, a deputy Minister of Information and during the interaction Ms. Sawyer had said the government had assumed that organized labour involved only the Ghana Trades’ Union Congress (GTUC).

“She apologised to us and promised that the government was going to look into our petition.”

Mr. Awinongya also said “we were assured that the government was going to ask the PURC to rethink the increases in tariffs. At least, we have been able to demonstrate the ICU spirit and we also thank the government for receiving us.”

Before embarking on the demonstration, Mr. Awinongya had addressed the members at the forecourt of the TUC saying “what we are doing should not be politicised.

The ICU has never been engaged in any arrangement to discuss tariffs. The high tariffs are threatening our sources of livelihood. It is killing local industries.”

“We cannot be talking about job creation when we are laying off workers, when local industries are dying. When you kill the private sector you kill all Ghanaians.”

Mr. Freeman Kumashie, Deputy Regional Operations Commander who was among the police officers ensuring a peaceful demonstration, initially commended the demonstrators for comporting themselves and following instructions but later said “I did not know what motivated them to cause confusion. All the same, nothing untoward happened.”

There were several placards condemning the government and the PURC for bringing hardship to Ghanaian workers.