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Rowley, Govt MPs: Racists ‘misguided, lunatic fringe’

Friday, May 30 2014

The persons who displayed placards with racists statements, and those who encouraged them to do so, are a “misguided minority” and part of a “lunatic fringe” whose actions must be strongly condemned.

These were the views of Opposition Leader Dr Keith Rowley and two Government MPs, in separate statements yesterday, the eve of today’s Indian Arrival Day holiday.

Their comments come a week after last Friday’s march in Port-of-Spain by the People’s National Movement (PNM), Joint Trade Union Movement and other groups against the Government, which had also mobilised supporters outside the Parliament Building. Several persons were seen near the Parliament with placards with racist statements about the Government, and supposedly pro-PNM. Their actions led to accusations from both sides that persons were planted by each other.

A police investigation, following a call by Rowley, is underway into last Friday’s incident.

Yesterday, however, the Opposition and Government, although separately, said they condemned the actions of those persons who sought to promote racism for political gain.

In his Indian Arrival Day message, Rowley said, “We speak proudly of our cosmopolitan nation, which is often described as a ‘melting pot’. This is not a weakness; it is in fact one of our greatest strengths. We all deserve the opportunity to be the best we can be and in so doing, help build a strong and better nation.”

Rowley, who is also PNM political leader, continued, “It is for this reason that the vast majority of us were so sorely disappointed in the ugliness that reared its head last Friday in a demonstration in front of the Parliament Chamber.”

“However, we can all take comfort in knowing that sentiment such as we saw on those placards remain the view of that misguided minority,” he said.

Declaring citizens are “a people who are happy to work and play side by side,” Rowley said. “We all strive for what is best for Trinidad and Tobago. We ought to be thankful for what has been bestowed on us and take steps to ensure that we make the most of the potential of what we have inherited.”

He noted the words in our National Anthem “here every creed and race find an equal place” are a constant reminder and gauge of what being a citizen of TT means.

Rowley said, “We who live in a nation of varied races and religions call this place home. We are accustomed to sharing in the diverse customs and festivals of our forefathers.”

On the Government front, Labour Minister Errol McLeod blamed an unknown “lunatic fringe” for the racist messages on placards carried last Friday.

“I think for us to spend time, too much, dealing with that is to indicate an influence by the lunatic fringe,” Mc Leod said at yesterday’s post-Cabinet news briefing at the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM), St Clair.

Newsday said rather than just some character operating alone, reports are that a homeless man claims he was paid $50 to carry the placard, suggesting an orchestration by persons opposed to the protest and perhaps allied to the Government.

“I don’t know who it might be, neither am I suggesting that it is only the vagrant who belongs to the lunatic fringe,” replied Mc Leod. “Whoever paid the money is in that category.”

Minister of National Diversity and Social Integration, Rodger Samuel, present at the briefing, said, “I emphatically condemn any semblance of racist views, any semblance of non-acceptance or non-tolerance in this country, because we really are a melting-pot of the world. We must now send a clear message that we will not tolerate as a nation any ethnic bias or any kind of intolerance towards the people of any aspect of our society.”

Like Rowley, Samuel said the language in the placards goes against the nation’s watchwords and anthem which really tell who we are.

“This is a place where we rub shoulders at every level, schools, universities, workplaces. It is a nation which embraces Indian Arrival (Day); it is a nation which embraces Emancipation...So the placards really go against all that we are and we as a nation would not want to encourage such sentiments...”

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