PORT-au-Prince, Jan 26 (Reuters) – Haitian police blocked streets and forcibly entered the country’s main airport on Thursday to protest recent police killings by armed gangs that have expanded their grip on the Caribbean nation.
Plainclothes protesters claiming to be policemen first stormed Prime Minister Ariel Henry’s official residence before pouring into the airport when Henry arrived from a trip to Argentina, according to Reuters witnesses.
Henry was temporarily stranded at the airport but returned to his residence in Port-au-Prince late Thursday, followed by police protesters. A Reuters witness heard heavy gunfire near his home.
The Haitian National Police and the prime minister’s office did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Roads around Port-au-Prince and in several northern cities were blocked by protesters.
A group of U.S. government officials were visiting Haiti at the time, and a State Department spokesman said all personnel in Washington were in place and they had scheduled some meetings just in case.
Haitian human rights group RNDDH said in a statement that 78 police officers had been killed since Henry came to power in July 2021, an average of five per month, saying the prime minister and national police chief Franz Herbe “had a lot of respect for every one of us.” A policeman was responsible” for 78 people were killed during their reign. “
“History will remember that they did nothing to protect and preserve the lives of these agents who chose to serve their country,” it added.
Late Thursday, the Bahamas’ foreign ministry said the country’s prime minister had ordered all Bahamians, including its diplomatic staff, to leave Haiti as soon as security conditions allow.
Earlier in the day, Haitian police stopped local chargés in neighboring countries and took their vehicles and weapons, saying all diplomats were safe, along with the five citizens who were stranded near the airport.
Four police officers near the capital were killed by the Vitelhomme gang last week, while a shootout with the Savien gang in the town of Liancourt on Wednesday killed seven others, according to Haitian National Police and local media reports.
U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Brian Nichols offered his condolences to the families of police officers killed in the latest violence and said the United States would continue to “hold the price for those responsible for this heinous violence.”
Asked how the developments would affect efforts to formulate international armed intervention, a State Department spokesman told Reuters the United States was still working with international partners to develop a “framework” for security missions to “provide security and stability.”
The United Nations is discussing sending a foreign strike force to fight crime syndicates. The proposal was originally made three months ago, but no country has offered to lead such a force.
Reporting by Steven Aristil, Harold Isaac and Ralph Tedy Erol in Port-au-Prince, reporting by Brian Ellsworth in Caracas, Matt Spetalnick in Washington; Additional reporting by Sarah Morland; Editing by Sandra Maler and Christopher Cushing
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