Haiti’s main port closes as gang violence spirals

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The three-day state of emergency has now been extended for a month

Haiti’s main port says it has suspended operations due to sabotage and vandalism, as the capital continues to descend into violence and chaos.

Local media report that armed men entered the port of the capital Port-au-Prince and looted containers.

It follows gang attacks on the airport, police stations and prisons this week. They are calling for the resignation of Haitian Prime Minister Ariel Henry.

The three-day state of emergency has now been extended for a month.

Caribbean Port Services, the port’s operator, cited “malicious acts of sabotage and vandalism” when it announced the decision to suspend all services.

More than 20 trucks carrying essential equipment, medical supplies and food are stuck at the port, according to the UN World Food Program.

The UN Humanitarian Affairs Agency has warned that the country’s healthcare system is “on the verge of collapse”.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke to Henry to call for an “urgent” political transition, a senior US official said.

Mr Blinken spoke to the Haitian Prime Minister about “the urgent need to accelerate the transition to a broader, more inclusive government today,” Brian Nichols, the US Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs, said during a meeting on Thursday. event.

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

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 visiting Kenya, where he met President William Ruto to salvage a deal for the East African country to lead a multinational force that would help restore order in Haiti.

The two leaders signed a mutual agreement paving the way for the dispatch of 2,000 Kenyan police officers to Haiti, but a Kenyan opposition politician says he will challenge the deal in court.

Meanwhile, several Kenyan police officers who volunteered for the deployment opted for their safety.

Gangs in Port-au-Prince have taken advantage of Prime Minister Ariel Henry’s 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.

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

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”.

Aid group Medecins Sans Frontieres estimates that at least 2,300 people were killed in the 2023 violence in the Port-au-Prince neighborhood of Cite Soleil alone, where 9% of the capital’s population lives.

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