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Panic in Haiti’s capital as gunfire fills streets

Panic set in around downtown Port-au-Prince as wild shooting filled the streets of Haiti’s capital, with heavy gunfire near the national palace.

Gunfire broke out in the area of Champ de Mars, a big public park near the National Palace, which is the old presidential residence, local people said.

At least four police officers were wounded, according to the Miami Herald.

Haiti has had no president since the assassination of Jovenel Moise in 2021 and it has no sitting parliament. Its last election was in 2016.

It has been wracked for decades by poverty, natural disasters, political instability and gang violence.

Since late February Haiti’s powerful gangs have teamed up as they attacked police stations, prisons, the airport and the sea port in a bid to oust Prime Minister Ariel Henry.

Unelected and unpopular, Mr Henry announced on 11 March that he would step down to make way for a so-called transitional council.

But three weeks later the council has yet to be formed and installed amid disagreement among the political parties and other stakeholders due to name the next prime minister and because of doubts over the very legality of such a council.

Canadian soldiers stand guard in front of their embassy in Port-au-Prince

Witnesses reported seeing civilians rush to escape gunfire in the capital yesterday, where rival gangs control wide swathes of territory.

Gunmen seized an armoured vehicle from palace guards in the city centre. Meanwhile, four people were found dead in the capital’s relatively upscale Petion-Ville suburb, which has been threatened by gangs.

At least one other person was shot dead amid fighting in the capital’s Delmas district, while local media also reported a large industrial park had been set on fire three days before.

Meanwhile, the new US ambassador to Haiti, Dennis Hankins, arrived in the country, as the United States and other nations continue evacuating their citizens.

Over the past several months, Haiti has been facing a worsening conflict with alliances of gangs vying for control of the capital and attacks on the airport and main port blocking access to key goods.

An elderly woman sits with a child in front of a Catholic church in Port-au-Prince

The prime minister announced his resignation on 11 March.

The transitional council, proposed by Caribbean leaders and brokered by US officials, was set to be formalised within days of Mr Henry’s announcement to step down.

Last weekend, troops from the Bahamas and Belize arrived in Jamaica to participate in a training exercise known as Trogon Shield, along with soldiers from Canada, in preparation for deployment to Haiti.

In 2022, Mr Henry called for an international security force to boost Haiti’s out-gunned police, but despite the United Nations ratifying the force six months ago progress has been sluggish.

Over 1,500 people were killed in the first three months of this year and around 60 lynched by vigilante groups operating where police presence is lacking, according to a UN report last week.

The report warned of the ongoing recruitment of children into gangs and called for more efforts to stop the flow of firearms, largely from the United States, into the Caribbean country.

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