Haiti gangs torch police stations as PM’s future hangs in balance

  • By Vanessa Buschschlüter
  • BBC news

Image caption,

More than 15,000 people have fled their homes in the past week due to the violence

Gangs calling for the ouster of Haitian Prime Minister Ariel Henry have set fire to police stations in the capital Port-au-Prince.

According to local media, the police station in the busy Salomon market is the latest target.

Gangs in the violence-plagued city stepped up their attacks as Henry left for a regional summit last week.

The unrest has paralyzed air traffic, preventing his return.

Henry tried to fly back to Port-au-Prince on Tuesday, but ended up in the US territory of Puerto Rico instead.

He was unable to land in the Haitian capital because the international airport was closed as soldiers repelled attempts by armed men to seize the airport.

Civil aviation authorities in the neighboring Dominican Republic also rejected the prime minister’s plane after not being informed of the necessary flight plan.

Mr Henry has not made any public statements since his visit to Kenya, where he tried to salvage a deal for the African country to lead a multinational force that would help restore order in Haiti.

Gangs in the capital took advantage of his absence to carry out a series of coordinated attacks.

Their targets included the airport – which they want to control to prevent Henry from flying back in – and two prisons, from which they freed thousands of prisoners.

At least six police officers have been killed, while the National Police Academy has also been destroyed.

The bodies of several prisoners were also left on the street after the storming of the National Penitentiary.

The violence has further worsened the humanitarian crisis in Haiti.

Image caption,

Gang leader Jimmy “Barbecue” Chérizier has held press conferences as his G9 gang alliance has attacked key buildings

Aid agencies estimate that more than 15,000 people have fled their homes in the past week.

The UN’s humanitarian coordinator in Haiti, Ulrika Richardson, told the BBC’s Newshour program that the situation on the ground was “extremely dire and very alarming.”

“Large parts of the capital have been paralyzed: schools are closed, many hospitals have had to close, either due to a lack of equipment or simply because staff cannot come to work,” she said.

The gangs have not said what their goal is, beyond the ouster of Mr. Henry.

Jimmy “Barbecue” Chérizier, a former police officer who heads an alliance of gangs called G9, has threatened that if Mr Henry does not resign, a “civil war” will break out which he says could end in “genocide”.

Both Caribbean countries and the US have urged Mr Henry to take steps to “finalize a political agreement”.

Irfaan Ali, Guyana’s president and currently chairman of the regional body Caricom, said there had to be “a political solution to anchor any stabilization of security and humanitarian efforts.”

In a video messageMr Ali said Caricom had failed to “achieve any form of consensus among stakeholders in Haiti” despite round-the-clock efforts to reach an agreement between the government and key opposition figures, the private sector, civil society and religious organizations on the way forward.

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