Guyana leader sues newspaper over column that portrayed him as racist

GEORGETOWN, Guyana (AP) — Guyana's president has filed a libel lawsuit against a leading newspaper for a column that accused him of racism and of hiring people to disrupt an academic conference, serious charges in the racially divided South American country.

President Bharrat Jagdeo seeks a $50,000 from Kaieteur News and the columnist, Freddie Kissoon, for a column he said embarrassed the government. A judge quickly granted a preliminary injunction barring the paper from reprinting the text or anything similar.

The newspaper's publisher and editor vowed Friday to fight the lawsuit on constitutional grounds, calling it an attack on press freedom.

"It is unprecedented in Guyana," Editor Adam Harris said. "We are going to answer him point for point."

The June 28 column accused Jagdeo and his party, which is dominated by people of East Indian descent, of hiring "goons" to noisily disrupt a conference two days earlier. Kissoon presented a paper at the conference on racism against people of African descent in the country. In describing the findings of his paper, he wrote that the president exercises power "by the practice of ideological racism" rather than catering to ethnic constituencies as past leaders have done.

The president in his lawsuit said it was libelous to suggest his government would try to suppress free speech with intimidation and that the accusation of racism was intended to inflame racial tensions in the country.

Guyana's population of 700,000 is almost evenly divided between blacks, who mainly support the opposition People's National Congress, and people of East Indian descent, who mostly favor the ruling People's Progressive Party.