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Standoff with cops boosts protest

Riot police inadvertently ensured the success of an anti-summit event in St James Saturday afternoon. After they tried to stop the gathering, hundreds more people came out to support the demonstrators' right to protest.

The event, billed as the "Drummit2 Summit", began as a small gathering of activists for various causes. But when news spread that police had intervened, the event attracted widespread attention from the local and international media, and scores of people came to show solidarity.

In a tense standoff with a phalanx of police in body armour and visors, protesters screamed, "This is not a police state! We not doing anything wrong!" They urged the police to go and stop murders and lock up drug lords. The confrontation ended when police backed off, and the demonstration, now a triumphant rally in support of free speech, continued until 6 p.m.

The event began at 3 p.m. at the St James Amphitheatre, with performances by the "Truth Drummers" and addresses from participants. Some supported solidarity with Cuba, others were against the planned steel plant and aluminium smelters in central and south Trinidad. Among the drummers were environmental activists Gary Aboud and Michael Parris, who had been arrested and put on $100,000 bail on Friday while putting up placards advertising yesterday's event.

Police arrested Parris again and told the crowd the drumming was illegal, but changed their approach amid protests that this was not true. Instead they spoke to a member of the committee that manages the venue, then told the crowd she had withdrawn permission to use it. But the organisers said they had been given legal advice that this was unreasonable, and the event continued.

Around 4 p.m., as participants and observers passed on news of the police action via phone calls, text messages, and online social networking sites, more people began arriving to support the rally. Among those present were activists Verna St Rose-Greaves, Diana Mahabir-Wyatt, Hazel Brown, Merle Hodge and Clive Nunez. Wendell Manwarren and Roger Roberts of the rapso group 3Canal gave an impromptu performance of their song "Talk Yuh Talk".

 Released from police custody, Parris, who seemed close to tears, addressed the crowd.

Police interrupted repeatedly to stop Parris and another speaker, environmentalist Dr Peter Vine. Parris and Peter Telfer of the drumming group the Mawasi Experience negotiated a compromise, agreeing that the event would end an hour early, at 5 p.m. But the crowd refused, and angry demonstrators confronted the riot police.

An officer in a lavender pantsuit defused the faceoff, telling the police to go back to their van, parked nearby on the main road. She refused to give her name and covered her summit pass, but a reporter identified her as Sr Supt Julius.

Police later shut down the sound system, but the drumming went on until 6 p.m., as originally planned, when the group dispersed peacefully.