Haitian gangs launch coordinated attack, vow to oust prime minister

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Port-au-Prince — Gun battles across the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince Thursday left four police officers dead as a prominent gang leader said a coordinated attack by armed groups was underway to oust Prime Minister Ariel Henry. Shots were heard across the city as authorities battled assailants who had targeted police stations, including two that were set on fire, as well as a police academy and the Toussaint-Louverture International Airport.

"Today, we announce that all armed groups are going to act to get Prime Minister Ariel Henry to step down," gang leader Jimmy "Barbecue" Cherisier said in a video posted on social media before the attacks began.

"We will use all strategies to achieve this goal," he said. "We claim responsibility for everything that's happening in the streets right now."

Police are seen during an anti-gang operation in the Portail neighborhood of Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Feb. 29, 2024. / Credit: Odelyn Joseph/AP
Police are seen during an anti-gang operation in the Portail neighborhood of Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Feb. 29, 2024. / Credit: Odelyn Joseph/AP

A police union official told AFP that in addition to the four officers killed, five were injured.

Armed gangs have taken over entire swaths of the country in recent years, unleashing brutal violence that has left the Haitian economy and public health system in tatters.

At the same time, the Caribbean nation has been engulfed in widespread civil and political unrest, with thousands taking to the streets in recent weeks to demand Henry step down after he refused to do so as scheduled.

Under a political deal reached following the assassination of President Jovenel Moise in 2021, Haiti was supposed to hold elections and Henry cede power to newly elected officials by February 7 of this year, but that hasn't happened.

Henry is currently in Kenya, which is moving to head up a multinational mission greenlit by the United Nations Security Council to help Haitian police wrest back control of the country.

The international force — dubbed the Multinational Security Support Mission or "MSS" — is being sent at the request of the Haitian government and U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres. It will be tasked with protecting hospitals, schools, airports, ports and traffic intersections in conjunction with the Haitian National Police.

Schools, universities and businesses in Haiti halted their activities as the unrest escalated on Thursday. At one point, students at the State University of Haiti were briefly taken hostage before being released, a dean told AFP. At least one student was shot and wounded in the fighting, he added.

People flee their homes as police confront armed gangs after prominent gang leader Jimmy
People flee their homes as police confront armed gangs after prominent gang leader Jimmy

Multiple airlines canceled domestic and international flights after aircraft and an airport terminal came under fire.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said Thursday that in addition to restoration of safety, a solution was needed for Haiti's years of political turmoil.

"You can put as many police forces as possible in Haiti (but) if there is no political solution, the problem will not be solved," he said in the Caribbean nation of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines ahead of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States summit.

Prime Minister Henry on Wednesday had agreed to "share power" with the opposition until fresh elections are held, though a date hasn't been set.

Five countries have said they are willing to join the Kenya-led multinational policing mission, including the Bahamas, Bangladesh, Barbados, Benin and Chad.

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