Port-Au-Prince residents sheltering in place as violence escalates

2023 through the lens of Reuters photographers
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PORT-AU-PRINCE (Reuters) - Haiti's capital Port-au-Prince was on lockdown on Thursday, as flaming barricades across several neighborhoods forced residents to shelter in place or return home in the latest flare-ups in chronic gang violence plaguing the Caribbean country.

Streets were blocked off by burning tires and rocks, sending up huge plumes of black smoke in the sky across various parts of the city, according to Reuters eyewitnesses.

It was not immediately clear who was behind the siege on the city's Solino area, which first began several days ago.

Analysts say violence has been escalating for months as gangs jockey for power and seek to put pressure on interim Prime Minister Ariel Henry, ahead of the Feb. 7 expiry of a political accord that consolidated his power.

Pierre Esperance, of Human Rights Network RNDDH said two dozen deaths had been reported in Solino, an impoverished neighborhood, since the weekend.

"Police are absent. The public physical force is not present," he said. "And the population in (other) areas have blocked the streets in solidarity with Solino."

The violence comes ahead of a court decision expected on Jan. 26 on a Kenyan-led multinational force to address gang violence in the country, one of the poorest in the Western Hemisphere.

A police spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Henry faces multiple groups seeking to remove him from power, including Guy Philippe, a former rebel and convicted felon in the U.S.

Moïse Jean-Charles, leader of the Pitit Dessalines party, has also called for protests in the coming days and weeks.

There is currently no date set for a new presidential election.

(Reporting by Harold Isaac, Editing by Isabel Woodford and Sandra Maler)