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Gas riot in retrospect

Published:Tuesday | April 28, 2009 | 1:06 PM

Today’s demonstration brings back memories of the 1999 gas riots.

There was widespread rioting in April 1999, when Prime Minister PJ Patterson announced that a 31 percent gas tax would be imposed:

From Morant Point to Negril Point, tires went up in flames and businesses were forced to close as Jamaicans joined in the infamous 1999 gas riot.

Public transportation and the education system were virtually crippled, while the police force, the military and the Fire Brigade, worked overtime to contain the protests.

Many commuters were forced to walk long distances as bus drivers and taxi operators abandoned their routes and parked their vehicles.

The Security Forces, which were largely outnumbered by demonstrators, struggled to contain the situation and sometimes stood quietly by while the protestors had their way.

During the mayhem, at least three members of the security forces were shot and injured and another four injured otherwise during demonstrations.

A pregnant woman was also shot and killed.

Several private and public vehicles were set on fire and some firemen were stoned while trying to put out the blaze.

The demonstrations led to more than 100 arrests in the Corporate Area, St. Elizabeth, St. Thomas, Clarendon, St. Catherine and St. James.

The charges ranged from traffic obstruction, breaches of the Anti-Litter Act to simple larceny.

Several tourists trying to get out of the country missed their flights due to transportation problems.

Several flights and cruises into the island were also cancelled and resulted in about $30M in losses to the tourism sector.

The JLP, which was in Opposition at the time, was also against the gas tax.

Edward Seaga, the Opposition leader at the time, was invited to a meeting with Prime Minister PJ Patterson.

However, he turned down the request when Mr. Patterson indicated the gas tax would not be rolled back.

As the protests drew to an end, the Prime Minister Patterson set up a committee to examine the gas price hike and recommend adjustments.

After almost a week Mr. Patterson followed the committee’s recommendations and cut the 31 percent fuel tax in half.