Home » Haiti imposes curfew to restore calm after weekend of violence

Haiti imposes curfew to restore calm after weekend of violence

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Haiti imposes curfew to restore calm after weekend of violence

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) — Authorities in Haiti imposed a nighttime curfew in an attempt to regain control of the streets after an outbreak of violence over the weekend, in which armed gang members stormed the two largest prisons of the country and freed their prisoners.

A 72-hour state of emergency began on Sunday night and the government said it would hunt down killers, kidnappers and other violent criminals it said had escaped.

“The police have been ordered to use all legal means at their disposal to enforce the curfew and arrest all criminals,” Finance Minister Patrick Boivert, who serves as acting prime minister, said in a statement. .

Prime Minister Ariel Henry traveled abroad last week to try to drum up support for a plan to deploy a United Nations-backed security force to stabilize Haiti, which is battling increasingly powerful criminal groups.

The emergency decree was issued after a deadly weekend that was a new milestone in the spiral of violence in Haiti. At least nine people have been killed since Thursday – four of them police officers – in coordinated gang attacks on state institutions in Port-au-Prince, including the country’s international airport and the national soccer stadium.

But even for Haitians accustomed to living under the constant threat of violence, the attack at the National Penitentiary on Saturday night came as a shock.

Nearly all of the roughly 4,000 inmates escaped, leaving a normally crowded prison eerily empty Sunday, with no guards in sight and plastic flip-flops, clothing and furniture strewn across the concrete yard. At the entrance to the compound, three shot bodies were seen.

In another neighborhood, the bloodied bodies of two men with their hands tied behind their backs were seen, lying face down while neighbors surrounded barricades armed with burning tires.

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Among the few dozen people who decided to stay in prison were 18 former Colombian military personnel accused of working as mercenaries in the July 2021 assassination of Haitian President Jovenel Moïse. Between the fighting on Saturday, several of the Colombians shared a video in which they asked for their lives.

“Please, please help us… They are massacring people indiscriminately inside the cell,” said one of the men, Francisco Uribe, in a 30-second video widely shared on social media.

On Sunday, in statements to journalists who entered on foot into a normally highly guarded facility, Uribe told him that “I didn’t blow myself up because I’m innocent.”

The Colombian Foreign Ministry asked that Haiti provide “special protection.”

The gang members also broke into another prison in Port-au-Prince where there were about 1,400 inmates.

Additionally, gunmen occupied and vandalized the country’s main soccer stadium and held an employee hostage for hours, according to the Haitian soccer federation.

Shots were reported in several neighborhoods of the capital. Many cell phone users were left without an internet connection because a fiber optic connection cable was cut during the riots, the country’s main operator said.

In less than two weeks, several state institutions have been attacked by increasingly coordinated gangs that choose previously unthinkable targets, such as the Central Bank. Four police officers were killed Thursday in coordinated gang attacks.

After gangs shot up Haiti’s international airport last week, the U.S. Embassy suspended all official travel to the country and on Sunday night urged all U.S. citizens to leave as soon as possible. The embassy said it was also canceling all consular appointments through Thursday.

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The Biden administration, which has flatly refused to send troops to any multinational forces and instead offered money and logistical support, said it was following with grave concern the rapidly deteriorating security situation.

The armed clashes follow a series of violent protests that became more deadly in recent days when Henry, the prime minister, traveled to Kenya to save a proposed security mission in Haiti that would be led by the East African country. Henry took over as prime minister following Moïse’s assassination and has repeatedly postponed plans to hold parliamentary and presidential elections, which have not been held in almost a decade.

The Haitian National Police has approximately 9,000 officers to provide security to more than 11 million people, according to the UN. Agents are often outnumbered and outgunned by gang members, who are estimated to control up to 80% of Port-au-Prince.

Jimmy Chérizier, a former elite police officer known as Barbecue who now heads a gang federation, took credit for the wave of attacks. He noted that the objective was to capture the police chief and ministers of the Haitian government and prevent Henry’s return.

The prime minister, a neurosurgeon by profession, has rejected calls for his resignation and did not comment when asked if he felt the conditions were in place for Haiti to return.

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Associated Press writers Joshua Goodman in Miami and Dánica Coto in San Juan, Puerto Rico, contributed to this report.

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