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Haiti capital 'paralyzed' after unrest, PM still abroad

Port-Au-Prince, Haiti | March 5, 2024, Tuesday @ 06:45 in World » GENERAL | By: AFP | Views: 2163
Haiti capital 'paralyzed' after unrest, PM still abroad

This screen grab taken from AFPTV shows tires on fire near the main prison of Port-au-Prince, Haiti, on March 3, 2024, after a breakout by several thousand inmates. At least a dozen people died as gang members attacked the main prison in Haiti's capital, triggering a breakout by several thousand inmates, an AFP reporter and an NGO said on March 3. "We counted many prisoners' bodies," said Pierre Esperance of the National Network for Defense of Human Rights, adding that only around 100 of the National Penitentiary's estimated 3,800 inmates were still inside the facility after the gang assault overnight on March 2. (Photo by Luckenson JEAN / AFPTV / AFP)

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Haiti's capital was largely shut down Monday with residents only venturing out for essentials, AFP reporters witnessed, as authorities imposed a state of emergency after an attack on a prison freed thousands of inmates.

As the latest crisis spiraled, Prime Minister Ariel Henry was still out of the country after a trip to Kenya to push for the deployment of a UN-backed multinational police mission to try to stabilize Haiti.

The prison break came in a new wave of violence sweeping through Port-au-Prince, where armed gangs who control much of the city have wreaked havoc since last week.

An AFP reporter said some locals were on the streets looking to buy water and fuel on the day after the state of emergency and a nighttime curfew were declared.

Schools and banks were closed, and people sheltered for safety in schools, sports venues, gyms and public buildings, often without adequate toilets, health facilities or drinking water.

"This morning the city is paralyzed," Carlotta Pianigiani, a coordinator in Port-au-Prince for the Alima medical NGO, told AFP.

"Public transport is practically at a standstill, private vehicles are rare and schools are closed. Some roads are also barricaded."

She said 15,000 people were displaced in weeks of recent unrest and that the largest public hospital suspended operation last week, adding that the situation was "already very tense."

- President assassinated -

Gang leaders such as Jimmy Cherisier, known by the nickname Barbecue, say they are coordinating to oust Prime Minister Henry, who has led the troubled Caribbean nation since the assassination of president Jovenel Moise in 2021.

About a dozen people died in the violence at the National Penitentiary in the capital on Saturday night, according to AFP reporters, with only a few of the estimated 3,800 inmates still inside.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres expressed alarm at the "rapidly deteriorating security situation" and called for more funding for the planned international police mission.

A spokesman for United States' State Department said that Henry was heading back from Kenya, adding "it's important that he do so, and that he be allowed to do so."

The Haitian government has vowed the security forces would take back control, but they are notoriously weak -- kidnapping and other violent crime is rampant, and gangs are often better armed than the police.

Among those held in the jail over Moise's assassination were 17 Colombian mercenaries who chose not escape as their lives would be in danger, their lawyer said Monday.

A gang was "waiting to execute them at the prison entrance," Sondra Macollins told on Blu Radio in Bogota, adding the former soldiers were now detained in a police station.

The Haitian news outlet Le Nouvelliste reported that the prison, located close to the National Palace, had been under surveillance by gangs using drones before the assault was launched.

The UN Security Council in October approved an international police support mission to Haiti that Nairobi had agreed to lead, but a Kenyan court ruling has thrown its future into doubt.

On Friday, Henry signed an accord in Nairobi with Kenyan President William Ruto on deploying the force.

Haiti, the Western hemisphere's poorest nation, has been in turmoil for years, and the 2021 presidential assassination plunged the country further into chaos.

No elections have taken place since 2016 and the presidency remains vacant.

White House spokesman John Kirby told reporters Monday that the United States was monitoring the situation "with great concern."

© Agence France-Presse

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