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Police officers speak with Umar Abdullah of the First Wave Movement before the start of the walk around the Queen Park Savannah yesterday.

Anna-Lisa Paul

One week after participants were tear-gassed by police during a march at the Queen’s Park Savannah, The First Wave Movement (TFWM) led by Umar Abdullah yesterday hosted another march with a noticeably smaller crowd and a more intense police presence.

There were fewer than 100 participants at the start of the march at 2.10 pm and the crowd grew slightly as the three-hour walk continued.

The incident-free event was hosted under the banner of The Worldwide Rally to Freedom.

Speaking with reporters before the start of the march, Abdullah said: “We are in solidarity with the rest of the world as every country is suffering as a result of these lock-downs and mandates. Governments all over the world have taken a turn and they are doing things that are very surprising to the population.

“Similarly, here in T&T, we are noticing and witnessing a lot of issues in our systems, and we are hoping that by coming out like this and walking, is a significant example of what freedom is all about.”

Abdullah was granted permission by acting Police Commissioner Mc Donald Jacob to host the symbolic event which ended at 5 pm.

Commending the organisers and participants for obeying the law and the public health regulations, Jacob said yesterday was a perfect example of what can be achieved when citizens work with law enforcement.

“When persons work hand in hand with the law, they can get the opportunity to exercise freedom of expression without being interrupted,” he said

Jacob commended the officers involved in the exercise, some of whom had been recalled from leave to assist in maintaining law and order. He described the interaction between officers and participants as positive, disciplined and cooperative.

Asked about the message they wanted to send to the authorities following the march, Abdullah said: “We want to show our government that we are dissatisfied. We do not want you out of power but we want you to listen to the people. We want you to understand what we are saying.”

He said issues were affecting various sectors including health, education, and the economy since the pandemic began which had led to more than 1,000 businesses having to close.

“You are hurting the economy. You are hurting our homes and our families are suffering as a result of this,” he said, calling for answers and transparency from the government.

Abdullah stressed that the decision to be vaccinated remains a personal choice and was critical of the public sector vaccine policy announced by Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley.

“Our immediate thought is that the Prime Minister extended this because he wanted more time for the numbers to go up because they are not where he wants it,” he said.

Claiming this was yet another attempt to coerce people to take the vaccine, Abdullah said: “Nobody is taking this injection anymore. Those who would have taken it have stopped. They are not taking the second shot, they are not taking the booster. You have to answer why this is happening and why people are hesitant.”

Leader of the New National Vision and member of the Jamaat-al-Muslimeen, Fuad Abu Bakr, who turned up to lend support to Abdullah agreed that the vaccination remained a right of choice.

“In a situation like this when a human being has to decide what he is going to put in his body, he should have that choice,” he said.

He accused the government of adopting a draconian approach by ordering public servants to become vaccinated or not be paid.