PORT-AU-PRINCE: Gunbattles broke out across the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince on Thursday, as a prominent gang leader said a coordinated attack by multiple armed groups was underway to oust Prime Minister Ariel Henry.

Shots were heard across the city as authorities battled assailants who had targeted police stations, a police academy and the Toussaint-Louverture International Airport.

“Today, we announce that all armed groups are going to act to get Prime Minister Ariel Henry to step down,” gang leader Jimmy Cherisier, known by the nickname Barbecue, said in a video posted on social media before the attacks began.

“We will use all strategies to achieve this goal,” he said. “We claim responsibility for everything that’s happening in the streets right now.”

Armed gangs have taken over entire swaths of the country in recent years, unleashing brutal violence that has left the Haitian economy and public health system in tatters.

At the same time, the Caribbean nation has also been engulfed in widespread civil and political unrest, with thousands taking to the streets in recent weeks to demand Henry step down after he refused to do so as scheduled.

Under a political deal concluded following the assassination of president Jovenel Moise in 2021, Haiti was supposed to hold elections and Henry cede power to newly elected officials by Feb 7 of this year, but that hasn’t happened.

The attacks came as Henry is currently in Kenya, which is moving to head up a multinational mission greenlit by the UN Security Council to help the Haitian police wrest back control of the country.

Schools, universities and businesses halted their activities.

Published in Dawn, March 2nd, 2024

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