Haitian police block roads and break into airport to protest killings of officers

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Jan 26 (Reuters) – Haitian police officers blocked roads and forced their way into the country’s main airport on Thursday to protest the recent killing of officers by armed gangs spreading their grip on the Caribbean nation expand.

According to a Reuters witness, protesters in plain clothes posing as police officers first attacked Prime Minister Ariel Henry’s official residence and then flooded the airport when Henry arrived from a trip from Argentina.

Henry was temporarily stuck at the airport but returned to his home in Port-au-Prince later on Thursday, followed by police protesters. A Reuters witness heard heavy gunfire near his home.

Haiti’s National Police and Prime Minister’s Office did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Roads around Port-au-Prince and in several northern cities have been blocked by protesters.

At the time, a group of US government officials were visiting Haiti, and a US State Department spokesman said all Washington staff had been billed and they had postponed some meetings as a precaution.

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 a month, and said Prime Minister and national police chief Frantz Elbe were “responsible for each of the.” 78 lives lost during her reign.”

[1/14] A protester shouts in front of a burning barricade during a protest against recent killings of police officers by armed gangs in Port-au-Prince, Haiti January 26, 2023. REUTERS/Ralph Tedy Erol

“History will remember that they did nothing to protect and preserve the lives of these agents who chose to serve their country,” she added.

Late Thursday, the Bahamas State Department said the country’s prime minister had ordered all Bahamas, including diplomatic personnel, to leave Haiti as soon as security conditions permit.

Haitian police earlier in the day stopped the neighboring country’s local chargé d’affaires and confiscated their vehicle and weapons, she added, saying all her diplomats are safe, as are five citizens who were trapped around the airport.

Last week, four police officers were killed near the capital by the Vitelhomme gang, while another seven officers died in shootouts involving the Savien gang in the town of Liancourt on Wednesday, according to the Haitian National Police and local media reports.

US Assistant Secretary of State Brian Nichols offered his condolences to the families of the police officers killed in the recent violence and said the United States would continue to “impose costs” on those responsible for this heinous violence.

Asked how the developments could affect efforts for international armed intervention, the US State Department spokesman told Reuters the United States was still working with international partners to develop “a framework” for a security mission to “ensure security and stability”.

The United Nations are discussing sending a foreign task force to fight the criminal groups. 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, Brian Ellsworth in Caracas, Matt Spetalnick in Washington; Additional reporting by Sarah Morland; Edited by Sandra Maler and Christopher Cushing

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