Five Killed In Clashes With Police In Haiti Amid Protests

(AFP)— Five agents of an environmental protection body were killed in clashes with police near the Haitian capital Wednesday, as the country is seized by violent protests calling for the ouster of Prime Minister Ariel Henry.

Haiti has been engulfed in unrest since Monday, with thousands of people in Port-au-Prince and across the country demanding that Henry step down in line with a political agreement forged in 2022.

A police source told AFP the five agents of the National Agency for Protected Areas, an armed government bureau now in open rebellion, had been shot after refusing to drop their weapons and firing in the direction of police.

Three other members of the agency were arrested, said the source.

According to an agreement concluded in December 2022 following the assassination of Haitian President Jovenel Moise a year earlier, Henry was supposed to hold elections and then cede power to newly elected officials on February 7, 2024.

But Henry has remained in power, with an aide saying the prime minister intends to form a government of national unity.

“This Wednesday is D-Day. It’s the day when Ariel Henry must leave office,” a motorcycle taxi driver protesting in the capital told AFP, asking that his name be withheld.

“I hope he will listen to reason. Otherwise, the voice of the people will be listened to,” the protester added.

The Western hemisphere’s poorest nation, Haiti has been in turmoil for years, with armed gangs taking over parts of the country and unleashing brutal violence, leaving the economy and public health system in tatters.

The 2021 assassination of Moise plunged the country further into chaos. No elections have taken place since 2016 and the presidency remains vacant.

Another protester, who is 40 and unemployed and who also declined to give his name, said Henry had “not provided any solutions to our problems.”

“The country is being held hostage by gangs. We can’t eat. We can’t send our children to school,” he added. “We can’t take it anymore.”

The protests have been called by several opposition parties and joined by employees of the environmental agency.

February 7 is a symbolic date for Haitians as it marks the anniversary of the end of the Duvalier dictatorship in 1986.

On Tuesday evening, a police station in the northeastern province of Ouanaminthe came under attack, local media reported. Major roads and schools have been closed across the country since Monday.

The Dominican Republic, which shares the island of Hispaniola with Haiti, said Wednesday it was reinforcing its borders due to the violence.