Chaos grips Haiti after airport attack, deadly unrest

Chaos grips Haiti after airport attack, deadly unrest
Chaos grips Haiti after airport attack, deadly unrest

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Nevin Al Sukari - Sana'a - A man leaves the prison area and lowers his head because of the nearby gunfire, in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, March 4, 2024. — AFP pic

PORT-AU-PRINCE, March 6 — The police academy in Haiti’s capital came under attack by an armed gang yesterday as the tiny Caribbean nation fell into deeper international isolation in the wake of an assault on the airport and a deadly prison breakout.

The latest violence followed the evacuation of thousands of residents from the capital Port-au-Prince, with the United Nations and Washington reiterating their concerns over the crisis as armed groups announced a coordinated assault to oust the prime minister.

The attack on the academy, where more than 800 cadets are training, was repelled after the arrival of reinforcements, said Lionel Lazarre of the Haitian police union.

Toussaint Louverture International Airport in Port-au-Prince has been heavily impacted by the violence since last week, while an assault late Monday saw a police station set ablaze.

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The chaos has left some 250 Cubans stranded in Port-au-Prince after their flights were cancelled, according to the Havana office of Sunrise Airways.

“When we were about to board the plane, they realised that the plane had a bullet hole,” a 34-year-old Cuban passenger told AFP via WhatsApp, on condition of anonymity.

She had booked a ticket to return home from Haiti on February 29, but remains stranded in the country, with the airline saying it was unsure when flights would resume.

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Yesterday the Dominican Republic, which shares the Caribbean island of Hispaniola with its troubled and impoverished neighbour, said it was halting all flights to Haiti.

Gangs controlling large swaths of Haiti have wreaked havoc for months, with coordinated attacks on strategic sites growing since last week.

They say they want to overthrow the disputed prime minister, Ariel Henry, who was out of the country over the weekend in Kenya, where he was pushing for the rapid deployment of a UN-backed multinational police mission to help stabilise his country.

Henry’s current whereabouts are unknown.

Lack of security at the Port-au-Prince airport has prevented Henry’s return home as of yesterday, according to local media Radio Tele Metronome.

In power since the 2021 assassination of president Jovenel Moise, Henry had been due to step down in February but instead agreed to a power-sharing deal with the opposition until new elections are held.

‘Escalation of violence’

With Henry away, the gangs raided two Port-au-Prince prisons, in attacks that resulted in a dozen deaths and the escape of thousands of inmates.

The government has declared a state of emergency and a nighttime curfew, which has been extended through today.

The “escalation of violence” has prompted at least 15,000 evacuations in the worst-hit parts of the capital, said Stephane Dujarric, spokesman for UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.

Due to limited movement, UN teams on the ground have been unable to report a death toll from the latest violence, Dujarric told reporters in New York.

Meanwhile the UN Security Council has scheduled a closed-door meeting Wednesday to discuss the crisis. Maria Isabel Salvador, the UN representative in Haiti, will brief the council remotely.

After being brought to a virtual standstill, Port-au-Prince appeared to be returning to some semblance of normalcy yesterday, although certain streets remained barricaded with debris placed by residents in an attempt to protect themselves.

Some transportation has resumed and shops have reopened, with long queues seen outside of stores, banks and at petrol stations.

In Washington, the State Department renewed a call for calm.

“We urge all actors to put the people of Haiti first, stop the violence and make the necessary concessions to allow for inclusive governance, free and fair elections and the restoration of democracy,” spokesman Matthew Miller told reporters.

He declined to address the whereabouts of Haiti’s prime minister. — AFP

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