March 24, 1999
Protesters storm Bahamas parliament

                  NASSAU, Bahamas (Reuters) -- Hundreds of union workers stormed the
                  Bahamas parliament on Wednesday to protest against privatisation of the
                  state-owned telephone company, forcing police to bolt the doors of

                  The demonstration in Rawson Square, in the heart of the Bahamian capital,
                  turned ugly when police arrested a labour leader. Some 500 protesters
                  breached police barricades and tried to enter the House of Assembly while
                  lawmakers were in session.

                  The protest was the result of simmering anger over a host of government
                  decisions on labour issues. At a recent rally, telephone company workers
                  tossed beer and peanuts at Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham as he emerged
                  from parliament.

                  "The government can't hide now. The time is for the government to come out
                  now and solve this problem," said Obie Ferguson, president of the Trade
                  Union Congress.

                  Three people were arrested during the demonstration, including Charles
                  Rolle, president of the Bahamas Electrical Union.

                  Deputy Prime Minister Frank Watson said one officer was kicked and
                  someone sprayed mace at police.

                  The government has announced plans to privatise the state-owned Bahamas
                  Telecommunications Corp, but was not yet considering offers. Consultants
                  recommended that the BaTelCo work force be cut from 2,100 employees
                  to fewer than 1,000.

                  "This privatisation has affected the morale of the people and so this
                  government has got to deal with it...The people of the Bahamas are fed up
                  and he (Ingraham) got to know that," one protester said. "Ingraham resign,"
                  other workers shouted.

                  In addition to tensions over the BaTelCo privatisation, union demonstrators
                  were angered by a recent dispute between a worker and a state-owned
                  hotel corporation.

                  The nation's Industrial Tribunal, a quasi-judicial body that mediates labour
                  disputes, ruled that a woman who was fired after contracting multiple
                  sclerosis should be compensated. But the Trade Union Congress said the
                  government has refused to honour the ruling.

                  The Bahamas, a haven for pirates centuries ago and for rum-runners during
                  the U.S. Prohibition era, is a chain of some 700 small islands extending from
                  just off the coast of Florida to about 600 miles (960 km) to the southeast.

                  Tourism and financial services are mainstays of the economy in the former
                  British colony, home to about 280,000 people.

                     Copyright 1999 Reuters.