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Chaos At The Port, Police Turn On Peaceful Protestors #543666
07/23/20 04:39 AM
07/23/20 04:39 AM
Joined: Oct 1999
Posts: 74,781
oregon, spr
Marty Offline OP

Marty  Offline OP

Eruption At The Port Started with Minor Incident

Weeks of mounting industrial tension at the Port of Belize exploded into anger today when management went ahead and fired 36 employees for redundancy.

That was at 11:00 am - and within 90 minutes, the Port would be convulsed in chaos, with the GSU unleashing tear gas and rubber bullets against peaceful protestors, Stevedores who were protesting the firings.

For the Barrow administration - which has been publicly taking the side of these stevedores - it will be a day of infamy: the day the security forces turned on peaceful protestors with extreme force and prejudice.

7News has been on the story from dawn to dusk, and we've captured all the action and the reactions. We start, where it all started, at 6:30 am with the blocking of the Port's main gate:

At 6:30 this morning, Port workers started arriving at work to find that this bus had been deposited in front of the main gate at the Port of Belize to block the entrance.

Two dozen police officers were dispatched to the Port. And they weren't about to put up with any trouble from this senior stevedore:

Guy Neal, Senior Stevedore
"Just now I wanted to go in the place, the officer assaulted me, pushed me. Look at him to me, I don't want any violence, I am a body builder. Only weapons of destruction could take me down. I called Chester and tell him to do something because the officer doesn't have any PR out here."

Shortly after that, the officer commanding eastern division appeared to take charge of the scene, he consulted with his officers and set out a plan to move the bus. It was fairly rudimentary, a chain plus a flatbed two truck and by 08:15, the bus that had blocked the entrance for 90 minutes was gone simple as that. The 18 wheelers started to roll out and the police took firm and unquestioned charge of the gate, securing it with manpower and firepower.

But little did they know how fragile that firm showing would prove to be within three hours.

So, that was all resolved by 8:15 am, relatively peacefully, with one stevedore, Edward Saldano detained for obstruction after he got in front of one of the two trucks.

But that caused no real fuss and things remained calm - leading up to 11:00 when the stevedores had to go inside the compound as usual to offload a ship that had just arrived that.

But, shortly before that, there was a sudden blackout at the Port - and that's where the tension started to mount. Cherisse Halsall picks up the story:

Things ramped up at 10:30 with a facility wide blackout and the cutting of all communications inside the Port of Belize. which led to workers having to leave the building to escape the unbearable heat. And in his usual position at the gates of the port, CWU president Mose Hyde told us that the port's difficulties seemed like a sign.

Mose Hyde, President, CWU
"It's a beautiful thing you know when you're on the righteous side mysterious things happen to come and show you solidarity so that's what's happening."

And just a few minutes later 36 employees were terminated by text message. The rage was palpable from one woman who'd lost her job:

Former employee
"They work me hard, 9 years."

Mose Hyde, President, CWU
"When you go for the 36 people you selected 29 union members but worst you found 4 of our reps. They handpicked people who are the most outspoken, who are the most courageous, who look out for other workers and who are our most strongest union members here..

"The position that we are holding right now is based on the fact that you can't just leave 36 people without a job without having a legitimate process."

Then the shouting began as Stevedores entered the port to unload a ship that was due in at 11:00. But by then a vehicle had been set on fire. And by the time the fire truck rounded the lane, it's entrance had been blocked by a small Mahindra pickup in a coordinated simultaneous incapacitation of the port.

Then there was a struggle for the door:

Roy Neal, Stevedore
"Before I got through the door the WPC pulled the door on my foot. I told her mein you can't do that I said you can't strong me you know, I said you can't do that, so when I pushed the door open another little fat one who was around there, I told him boss you can't strong me i'm going for water then the rest of Stevedores they pushed the door open then we didn't get the water because it was finished already. When I'm going back in now. They were trying to keep me out when I was already there. But we were the ones that built this place. We know how the fence went up; they can't keep us out if we really want to."

After which the media was locked out Forcing Krem News editor Marisol Amaya to crawl in under the fence. From there, things quickly escalated with the arrival of several truckloads of GSU officers. They stood between the staff and the port.

It seemed like overkill with the officers in full riot gear to combat the small group of unarmed protesters

They sat in protest to await a 2:00 PM injunction hearing where government was trying to stop PBL from firing the 36 workers - that they'd already fired.

Via phone, he Commissioner of police had given the group the go-ahead for their sit in. But in a colossal collapse of communication, the GSU didn't get that memo.

And soon rubber bullets and tear gas canisters began to fly

"Everybody was out her peacefully, peacefully sitting out here on the ground they opened fire, you have people that are injured, it doesnt make any sense."

Mose Hyde, President, CWU
"Everything is on video right, everything is on video. Imagine the brutality that we face, imagine, and extremely. I want to know who gave the order because the Minister of Labour had just called me to say that he had spoken to the commissioner, the commissioner spoke to me but there was another order just now."

"Who gave the order to have people who were fighting for their rights face such levels of brutality.

"They declared that we were being riotous and then said you have two minutes and then just unleashed in Belize, working people, not criminal people, not people with any kind of weapon, not people with any kind of sticks just having the courage to stand up."

"Now we see who has the power in the state because the state said we could stay there but the real power in the state said no and the authorities and the enforcement decided that's the power that they would listen to."

Those orders unleashed an attack on the Port's own employees, an attack that didn't end when the sit-in dispersed. And with the crowd running for cover one officer took position to aim at them from a distance.

His colleagues remained behind their shields in riot formation. On the ground behind them CWU member Trevor Jones, who'd been hit several times, lay unconscious.

And after angry shouts from the crowd, the officers finally got him out of the sun and under the shed

It took further pleas before they allowed his colleagues to transport him to the hospital for what was by then much needed medical care.

And in the aftermath of all this violence, violence that AG Micheal Peyrefitte seems to have bent over backward to avoid, it's the Commissioner of police who has a lot to answer to.

Mose Hyde, President, CWU
"The question that he has to answer is, did he give that order, was he informed of that order because we were sitting and they declared the riot act, read us the riot act while we were sitting that should be an explanation that the people of Belize should get before evening."

"What will the state say about this because this is on pure video. We sat down because we said we didn't come here for violence. We won't bring any violence but violence has been visited upon us."

And that violence was visited most visibly on Raymond "Dinget" Rivers. The always outspoken stevedore was shot with rubber bullets about 10 times - and you can see the welts from where he was hit.

Security Minister: GSU Should Not Have Released Tear Gas, Rubber Bullets on Protestors

The pain is all too real for the stevedores and the port workers, they were suffocated and brutalised on the frontlines today - but there is also political pain for the ruling UDP.

The party put out a proud press release at midday boasting, quote, "the United Democratic Party strongly supports the waterfront workers at the Port of Belize and commends the Attorney General for interceding on their behalf to protect the rights that are duly afforded to them under the Belize Labour Act." end quote.

It goes on to inveigh against the Ashcroft Alliance and all the usual political jazz…but when you look at what happened on the ground today, the strident public statements and the reprehensible police conduct are irreconcilable.

This evening we asked the Attorney General and Minister of National security how government talked one way, and acted the total opposite. His answer was quite shocking:

Jules Vasquez- Reporter
"In taking this position of advocacy that we hear you taking today, anyone that was on the ground today would say: well, you all are being hypocrites. You are saying one thing and then doing the other. You are saying that the Port is wrong to have done so but at the same time, peaceful protestors on the compound today were shot, were knocked unconscious, were smothered in tear gas, how do you justify or reconcile this?"

Hon. Michael Peyrefitte - Attorney General
"It is not reconcile and there is no reconciling of it. It makes no sense that the government would apply for an injunction on behalf of the Labour Department that would clearly also benefit the stevedores, then we go the next day and rough up the stevedores. The instructions to the Commissioner of Police were clear. Those people, as long as they are being peaceful are allowed to remain on that compound to at least 2 o'clock, until we hear the ruling of the court. My instructions to the Commissioner was clear. I am sure that his instructions to his commander was also clear. Because there was a three way phone call that had myself, the Commissioner and the Commander for that Division and the instructions were clear that those persons were to remain there until at the very least the court had ruled. Somebody, some police officer or police officers decided upon themselves obviously to ignore those instructions and that is why currently we have told the head of the Union to go to the police station and make a report. Those police officers will be charged after they have been arrested because they ignored a direct order and some direct instructions from their commissioner and their commander. An investigation will be done and somebody will be made to pay. At least one person will be made to pay when it comes to that incident because the instructions were absolutely clear. Leave those people on the compound until the court has ruled."

Jules Vasquez- Reporter
"Someone read the Riot Act. That invokes the power of the state to let rip."

Hon. Michael Peyrefitte
"Well whoever read that Riot Act was reading it not on behalf of the state but on behalf of themselves. We will do an investigation. We have already started an investigation and there will be hell to pay. Because under sky and in no world would I send the police department to rough up and arrest stevedores on behalf of the vampire Michael Ashcroft and his Belizean minions. That would never happen in a million years."

Jules Vasquez
"But it happened."

Hon. Michael Peyrefitte
"But it happened and so somebody will feel the wrath of the Government within the Police Department."

COMPOL Says CWU Has Rights To Feel Betrayed

And this evening at 5:00, the Commissioner of Police called an emergency press briefing to say much along the line of his minister. By then he had already had a debriefing with the GSU to try and find out the answer to that burning question: who gave the order?

This evening he told the press that the incident has undermined his credibility, with the CWU which whose members, he says, were well within their rights to believe that he set them up.

Chester Williams- Commissioner of Police
"The Port of Belize wanted the police to move the people off the compound. So, I said to the commander of Eastern Division, my position is that once these people are on the compound and they are peaceful, then let us allow them to express themselves peacefully. They will not stay there all day, they have to go home. After I gave that directive to the commander I also communicated with Mr. Hyde who is the president of the CWU and I told him that we were going to allow them to remain on the grounds providing that they remain peaceful. He gave his assurance that they were not about trouble that they were going to be peaceful. A few minutes later, I got a call that shots were being fired at the Port of Belize Limited and that the GSU were deployed to the area. Now for me that was a total wrong move. When we have people who are agitated, especially who know that they are in the process of losing their livelihood, we would expect that the police would do the utmost best to ensure that whatever we do would not be such that would cause more agitation. So, in a situation as volatile as what was happening at Port, I would have never made a decision to deploy a paramilitary unit because their mere presence would have made those agitated people believe that: you know what, here is the state enforcing their might on us. And it would cause them to become more agitated. When recieved that call, I called the OC in Eastern Division and I directed that the GSU be removed immediately. Mr. Dawson assured me that he was going on the grounds to ensure that the GSU were removed. But by that time the damage was already done because persons were already shot with rubber bullets and people had become more agitated. Now I want the public to understand that as a police department, we must always strive to be professional, we must always strive to do things in a peaceful manner. Brute force and ignorance does not make situations better for us. I believe that if the ordinary uniform police officers had been left in the area with those who were protesting the crowd would not have become more agitated. But Mr. Dawson has given his explanation as to what transpired, I am looking at it and I have also asked the Union to have those persons who were shot to come in to make their complaint and we will address it swiftly. Certain elements from the GSU have been transferred because we need to send a strong signal that we are not gonna have our officers go out and use force that is unnecessary against people who are dissenting peacefully."

Government Says It Canít Believe Port Went Ahead

And, in our interview this evening, the Attorney General also explained the government's rationale for its last minute application:

Hon. Michael Peyrefitte, Attorney General/Minister of National Security
"We did not think that just summarily trying to dismiss people without the process taking place, was in the best interest of the stevedores, the company or the Port of Belize. So we felt that it was neccessary to at least bring the court's attention to it and hopefully we can get the court to stop the company from dismissing these people before we can exhaust the process that was agreed upon."

"Why at the eleventh hour would an injunction be sought when you guys knew that this was coming and perhaps could have proceeded to do so prior to the service of those letters."

Hon. Michael Peyrefitte
"The real question is, why would they attempt to fire the people just before you have a hearing? If they believe that they have every legal right to dismiss those employees then just wait for the court to say so. We filed this from yesterday. We decided on this from early in the week, so it's not like a last-minute application we made. We never thought that these people would be so low as to actually do that, but when we found out that they were hundred percent serious about it, then we realized that we had to represent the Labor Department since the Labor Department being a government department is full-fledged a part of the process of trying to mediate between the port and the stevedores."

"It's not that we acted too late, it's that we realize then at that point that they were seriously going to attempt to do this when all along they claim that they were trying to go through the process to come to some sort of amicable settlement."

Jules Vasquez, reporter
"You're acting against an actor who does not care what the state may say, the actor may feel it is within his prerogative to hire and fire as any private company would."

Hon. Michael Peyrefitte
"That is an essential service though, that's one issue. One of the problems is that is an essential service to the country. So any dealings with those workers or that company and that situation has to be carefully looked at by the government."

Channel 7

Re: Chaos At The Port, Police Turn On Peaceful Protestors [Re: Marty] #543681
07/24/20 04:25 AM
07/24/20 04:25 AM
Joined: Oct 1999
Posts: 74,781
oregon, spr
Marty Offline OP

Marty  Offline OP

Police's Port Blunder Leads to Senior Shakeup

There's going to be a senior shakeup in the police department after yesterday's chaotic events at the Port of Belize. As the Police Minister made very clear last night - there will be, quote, "hell to pay" for whoever gave the directive to invoke the riot act during a protest inside the Port of Belize compound.

The man under the most pressure is the Officer Commanding Eastern Division, Assistant Commissioner of Police Alden Dawson. He was the officer in charge on the ground, and the man who got the directive saying that the workers should be left to protest peaceably on the compound.

Here's how explicitly the Police Minister put it yesterday:

Hon. Michael Peyrefitte - Attorney General

"My instructions to the Commissioner was clear. I am sure that his instructions to his commander was also clear. Because there was a three-way phone call that had myself, the Commissioner and the Commander for that Division and the instructions were clear that those persons were to remain there until at the very least the court had ruled. Somebody, some police officer or police officers decided upon themselves obviously to ignore those instructions."

And so if the Minister was clear and the Commissioner was clear, how did the message get so confused when it went down the chain of command?

Best information says the mix-up occurred somewhere between ACP Dawson, and the GSU personnel on the ground, including the officer who read the riot proclamation. We are also told that the officer commanding the GSU has taken some level of responsibility for the actions of his men.

Best information suggests that ACP Dawson, being the most senior officer may take the brunt of it. Reliable reports say he could be placed on administrative leave while an investigation is ongoing. For the interim, at least, a newly named Assistant Commissioner, Dr. Richard Rosado would reportedly take the helm as Officer commanding Eastern Division.

There's no word yet on what will happen to the GSU but some transfers are expected.

Today the commissioner of police would only say that nothing has been decided as yet, and the decision will be announced tomorrow.

Revisiting The Ruction, Looking For The Trigger Event

So, what really happened on the ground yesterday that is forcing the senior shake-up in the police department? We know that the GSU went into full riot squad mode when it was not directed to do so. But tonight Cherisse Halsall, who was on the frontline all morning, re-examines the events of yesterday to find out exactly where things took a turn from civil unrest to paramilitary attack.

Evan "Mose" Hyde - President, CWU

"Who gave the order to have people who were fighting for their rights face such levels of brutality."

That's the question that's been booming across Belize since last night. But whoever's responsible is set to suffer the vengeance of the state.

Hon. Michael Peyrefitte - Minister of National Security

"There will be hell to pay. Because under sky and in no world would I send the police department to rough up and arrest stevedores on behalf of the vampire Michael Ashcroft and his Belizean minions. That would never happen in a million years."

Jules Vasquez

"But it happened."

Hon. Michael Peyrefitte

"But it happened and so somebody will feel the wrath of the Government within the Police Department."

But, where did things turn? How did an executive order say one thing, yet the complete opposite happens on the ground?

While the COMPOL and the AG try and find that out, our team on the ground knows that this moment when a fire truck was blocked from putting out a burning car, Is where things started to take a turn.

Smoke billowed out from inside the compound as the stevedores marched in, in droves chanting "touch one touch all". And in the chaos, someone hurled a bottle and smashed this window.

Enter the riot squad, who took their formation between the crowd and the port.

All the while being provoked by Raymond "Dinget" Rivers, a man who by no coincidence - at the end of the day, would sustain a scatter of wounds from the GSU's rubber bullets.

But while "Dinget" could be seen to play the aggressor, CWU president Mose Hyde, seen here in animated conversation with the commissioner of police did his best to calm the situation giving the crowd the instruction to sit.

But that didn't last, and a few minutes later protestors both inside and outside the fences were throwing their hands up in a show of peaceful solidarity against the police.

And coming back to that struggle for the door and what was really at stake there? Because as the door was held open

And with the fence compromised, protestors were breaching not just the port, but undermining its international security regulations, threat to the integral security of the port.

We don't know if that's what the GSU was responding to but after reading the riot act and releasing the first canister of tear gas, #2 brackett FB live at port the GSU sought to restore order on their paramilitary terms.

The protestors dashed off in a wild frenzy, but as they ran some of them stopped to hurl more bottles and rocks at the GSU.

Will Lambey - Worker's Rep, Port of Belize

"We believe, firmly believe and it can be show through all the media houses that the GSU was not provoked the GSU also provoked and instigated took to be criminal. It's really painful to see and to hear the words that the other workers keep uttering out is truly uncalled for."

Once they had cleared the area, the GSU commander on the ground was satisfied that their mission - clearing the compound- had been accomplished. And that they would not pursue.

For the commissioner they had accomplished the opposite of what he wanted them to do.

Chester Williams - Commissioner of Police

"When I received that call, I called the OC in eastern division and I directed that the GSU be removed immediately. Mr. Dawson assured me that he was going on the grounds to ensure that the GSU removed but by that time the damage was already done because persons were already shot with rubber bullet and people had become more agitated."

Hon. Michael Peyrefitte

"Well whoever read that riot act was reading it not on behalf of the state but on behalf of themselves."

In the aftermath, we caught up with Labour Senator Elena Smith who had come out in a show of solidarity with the CWU and was shocked at the way the day had turned out.

Elena Smith - President, BNTU

"I don't know why is it that we ended up at this point and these officers were behaving as though they were being attacked whether you or doing or not. We have every right to fight for what we deserve and there is no reason why absolutely none at all."

Today the port is not operational with its security level raised from a 1 to a 3.

It's a consequence of protestors breaching restricted areas, and according to the port

has caused a quote: "serious consequences to the flow of goods into stores and to cargo exporters attempting to get their goods to the international market for the foreseeable future."

So, while the pandemonium on the ground played out on a cinematic scale, there are very real social, economic and political consequences for all parties involved, while the moving hand behind it all, the Ashcroft Alliance remains distant, insulated and perhaps bemused.

But bemused is not the word we would use to describe the tone of an accusatory Port of Belize Limited press release. It says, quote: "PBL, and the greater Belizean economy, were sabotaged by violent CWU members who put innocent lives at risk by setting fire to vehicles, setting fire to equipment, destroying infrastructure and throwing projectiles at the Police." End quote.

Channel 7

Re: Chaos At The Port, Police Turn On Peaceful Protestors [Re: Marty] #543706
07/25/20 05:03 AM
07/25/20 05:03 AM
Joined: Oct 1999
Posts: 74,781
oregon, spr
Marty Offline OP

Marty  Offline OP

Policeís Preliminary Investigation Into GSUís Port Provocation

Since Wednesday, Belizeans have been wondering what went so wrong to cause the Gang Suppression Unit to seemingly disobey the Police Commissioner and forcibly remove the waterfront workers and their union using riot squad tactics. The Commissioner and the Minister of National Security gave the directive that the union should be allowed to protest the Port of of Belize's decision to lay off of 36 workers.

The protesters were promised that as long as they remained peaceful, they would be allowed to stay, but somehow, that directive from the Commissioner didn't reach the GSU officers who responded. And instead, the protesters were treated to rubber bullets and tear gas.

The Police Commissioner promised to investigate the breakdown and take whatever disciplinary action was necessary to address the matter. And this evening, he, his senior command, and the CEO in the Ministry of National Security called an impromptu press conference to outline what the two investigations have revealed so far.

We start first, with the findings of the police's initial investigation into the incident. Here's how Deputy Commissioner Dezerie Magdaleno explained it this evening to us:

Dezerie Philips-Magdaleno, Deputy Commissioner of Police
"During the course of the investigation it revealed that sometime around midday or little after midday on Wednesday, Commissioner of Police gave directive to Eastern Division Regional Commander ACP Alden Dawson and that directive was clear and specific to say that the persons gathered on the compound protesting must be allowed to remain on the compound as long as they remained peaceful. That directive, as is expected as is protocol, must be complied with. However, the investigation revealed that Mr. Dawson failed to transmit that directive to the ground commander at the Port of Belize. That ground commander was senior superintendent Daniel Arzu, so he had no idea of that directive given to the Commissioner to Mr. Dawson. Just prior to that directive given by the commissioner, assistance was required by the GSU for support to relieve some of the uniform officers that were deployed out there for them to have their refreshment break. But they were deployed with specific instructions that they were not to be deployed with any kind of riot gears - that was done. Subsequent to that the commander for GSU arrived at the compound to do an assessment of the situation, bearing in mind his personnel were deployed out there on the request for assistance. So, he did his assessment on the grounds. He communicated with the ground commander Senior Superintendent Daniel Arzu. The directive given to the commander for GSU Mr. Lorenzo is that the crowd gathered there needed to be removed. So, Mr. Lorenzo inquired whether the persons gathered had been spoken to and that was communicated that yes they had been spoken to. So, Mr. Arzu once more went and spoke to the persons gathered and shortly after doing so he communicated with Mr. Lorenzo and he gave the directive or the order to have the persons gathered be removed and that was when the GSU was engaged and what occurred, occurred."

Three Senior Cops Placed On Suspension

And so, the immediate action being taken is that 3 senior officers are being placed on administrative leave, and interim replacements have been identified to hold over the posts that they held.

Here's what the CEO in the Ministry of National Security and the Police Commissioner had to say about it:

(Ret'd) Col. George Lovell, C.E.O., Ministry of National Security
"The ministry of national security views this as a matter that certainly needs swift and urgent attention and we have decided that it is important for us to be here with the commissioner as he brings to you sort of update on the investigations that he and his team are in fact doing and for you all to be appraised of what we intend to do going forward. Our initial investigation has caused us to put three senior officers on administrative leave."

Chester Williams, Commissioner of Police
"We decided that certain senior level officers in eastern division had to go an administrative leave effective immediately and so as the CEO had mentioned Mr. Dawson who was the eastern division commander was placed on administrative leave, Mr. Arzu who is region one commander is on administrative leave and Mr. Lorenzo who is the commander of GSU also on administrative leave. Now, as you have heard Mrs. Magdaleno said that the directive was given to Mr. Dawson and he failed to transmit the directive downwards and that could be seen as what led to the chaos because had he trickled the directive down, then whatever happened would not have occurred. But Mr. Arzu also has a responsibility. You cannot deploy a riot team without consulting the commissioner of police and so he failed in that respect and he also failed in the respect that he was out there when this entire fiasco was taking place and he did nothing to intervene to stop it. Mr. Lorenzo on the other hand was acting on instructions from Mr. Arzu. But again, Mr. Lorenzo, as much as the investigation shows, he did some due diligence in trying to find out from Mr. Arzu where the directive came from and if the persons had been spoken to before and asked to leave. He was given assurance where that is concerned and so he acted on instructions given to him by Mr. Arzu. Now, for us, while yes you act on instructions you must ensure that whatever instructions you act on are lawful."

And the Commissioner also made it clear that the administrative leave is not the only disciplinary action being taken against these officers. Here's what he had to say about the step after the 5-days leave:

(Ret'd) Col. George Lovell, C.E.O., Ministry of National Security
"While those officers are on administrative leave we will have some replacement in their post so that the business that we have been tasked to do can continue and continue seamlessly. ACP Dawson will be replaced by ACP Rosado; Senior Superintendent Arzu will be replaced by his deputy Superintendent Reymundo Reyes and ASP Lorenzo, we will have a senior person be placed into his post until we can get to the bottom of this and that is Senior Superintendent Joseph. Those movements take immediate effect."

Chester Williams, Commissioner of Police
"I'll be making a submission to the CEO which will then go to the services commission next week requesting the suspension of the officers for 60 days in the first instance. We are hoping that we will be able to get the suspension approved before the 5 days administrative leave is up, so that from that they go straight into the suspension and then we then begin to look at the disciplinary process where I will be compiling the reports and the evidence that we have and will be forwarding that to the services commission through the CEO and the CEO again will be sending the officers a show-cause letter which they will have to then explain why disciplinary action should not be taken against them and then the ball begin to roll from there. But I want to give the public the assurance that as a police department we too are upset. We are disgusted over what happened. watching the video footages it really brings chills to me and I am sure the other people around the table can say the same. We pledge to do our best in ensuring that corrective measures are put in place."

Channel 7

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