PORT –OF- SPAIN, TRINIDAD – Queen’s Park Savannah Trinidad spiraled into chaos after thousands of protesters rallied against the government’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic. This prompted more than a dozen arrests and dozens of protesters tear-gassed by riot squads.
At the “Push Back” demonstration, hundreds rallied around Queen’s Park Savannah against Prime Minister Dr. Keith Rowley’s response to the pandemic and vaccination policy for government workers.
Led by social activist Umar Abdullah of the First Wave Movement, the protesters chanted “Rowley must go.”
Rowley announced just hours before the protest that the government would not implement the vaccine policy on public workers until mid-February. Originally, the policy was scheduled to go into effect on Monday, January 17.
In addition, the prime minister announced the formation of a five-member team to investigate factors contributing to clinical outcomes of COVID-19 patients.
While the protest was taking place, several people were detained by the police.
According to police reports, Abdullah and his supporters were asked to leave because McDonald Jacob, the Acting Commissioner of Police, had not permitted them. Despite this, the crowd did not leave and the march continued.
It is reported that police attempted to disperse the crowd for several minutes before riot police arrived and detained protesters, while others shot tear gas into the crowd.
In response to the “Push Back” protest, Ancel Roget, head of the Joint Trade Union Movement (JTUM), condemned the police for firing tear gas and arresting protesters.
Roget condemned the police for launching a “forceful and aggressive attack” on people gathered at the Savannah to protest State vaccine policy during a prayer vigil he led on Sunday evening outside Prime Minister’s official residence in St. Ann’s.
The police action, according to Roget, was an abuse of power.
“I outright condemn the actions of the police for discharging tear gas on law-abiding citizens. “This is a democracy and we are entitled to express our views and I want to advise the police not to allow yourself to be the tool of this government.”
If there is any take-away from this is that we are prepared to go for the long haul and stand against injustice.”
After reiterating his position regarding vaccinations being voluntary, he promised to go to any length (if necessary) to stop the implementation of the vaccination policy for government workers.
“We are not against the vaccine, but we stand equally, ‘no’ to any attempt by Government to move against anybody who stands by their right not to take the vaccine…their body their choice,” Roget said.
Prime Minister Rowley has given a one-month extension to public servants to get vaccinated before the public-sector “quasi-safe” zone initiative kicks in.
Roget announced that he would closely monitor all government agencies in the coming days to ensure that no worker would be punished for exercising their right to remain unvaccinated.
A prayer vigil, attended by about 30 people, was held in memory of those who died from COVID-19, he said. A series of prayers will follow, he added.
“The vigil is also for those who would have suffered the side effects of the vaccination. We also stand in solidarity with those who are prepared to set everything aside and stand and defend the right to choose.”