Gangs attack police stations in Haiti as Caribbean leaders call an emergency meeting Monday

Residents gather near the body of a suspected gang member shot dead by police during an attack on the National Palace, in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Saturday, March 9, 2024. (AP Photo/Odelyn Joseph)

Residents gather near the body of a suspected gang member shot dead by police during an attack on the National Palace, in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Saturday, March 9, 2024. (AP Photo/Odelyn Joseph)

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) — Police and palace guards worked Saturday to retake some streets in Haiti’s capital after gangs launched massive attacks on at least three police stations.

Guards from the National Palace accompanied by an armored truck tried to set up a security perimeter around one of the three downtown stations after police fought off an attack by gangs late Friday.

Sporadic gunfire continued Saturday, and one woman writhed in pain on the sidewalk in downtown Port-au-Prince with a gunshot wound after a stray bullet hit her in the leg.

The unrelenting gang attacks have paralyzed the country for more than a week and left it with dwindling supplies of basic goods. Haitian officials extended a state of emergency and nightly curfew on Thursday as gangs continued to attack key state institutions.

Caribbean leaders issued a call late Friday for an emergency meeting Monday in Jamaica on what they called Haiti’s “dire” situation. They have invited the United States, France, Canada, the U.N. and Brazil to the meeting.

Members of the Caricom regional trade bloc have been trying for months to get political actors in Haiti to agree to form an umbrella transitional unity government.

But average Haitians, many of whom have been forced from their homes by the bloody street fighting, can’t wait. The problem for police in securing government buildings is that many Haitians have streamed into them, seeking refuge.

“We are the ones who pay taxes, and we need to have shelter,” said one woman, who did not give her name for safety reasons.

Another Port-au-Prince resident, who also did not give his name, described the massive attacks Friday.

“They (the gangs) came with big guns. We have no guns and we cannot defend ourselves. All of us, the children are suffering,” said the man.

So far, efforts to broker a solution have been unsuccessful. Caricom, the 15-nation Caribbean bloc, said in a statement late Friday that “the situation on the ground remains dire.”

The Caricom statement said that while regional leaders remain deeply engaged in trying to bring opposition parties and civil society groups together to form a unity government, “the stakeholders are not yet where they need to be.”

“We are acutely aware of the urgent need for consensus to be reached,” according to the statement. “We have impressed on the respective parties that time is not on their side in agreeing to the way forward. From our reports, the situation on the ground remains dire and is of serious concern to us.”

“It is vital that this engagement be at as high a level as possible to send a clear message of unity between Caricom and the international community as we work together to provide the critical support to the Haitian people at this time of crisis for them,” said the statement.

In February, embattled Haitian Prime Minister Ariel Henry agreed to hold general elections by mid-2025, and the international community has tried to find some foreign armed force willing to fight gang violence there.

Caricom has also pushed Henry to announce a power-sharing, consensus government in the meantime, but the prime minister has yet to do so even as Haitian opposition parties and civil society groups are demanding his resignation.

Henry, a neurosurgeon, was appointed as prime minister after the July 2021 assassination of President Jovenel Moise.

It was unclear whether Henry would be in Jamaica. The prime minister had traveled to Kenya to push for the U.N.-backed deployment of a police force from the East African country to fight gangs in Haiti. A Kenyan court, however, ruled in January that such a deployment would be unconstitutional.

Henry, who is facing calls to resign or form a transitional council, remains unable to return home. He arrived in Puerto Rico on Tuesday after he was unable to land in the Dominican Republic, which borders Haiti. The Dominican government said he lacked a required flight plan as they closed their country’s airspace with Haiti.

On Saturday, the office of Dominican President Luis Abinader issued a statement saying that “Henry is not welcome in the Dominican Republic for safety reasons.” The Dominican Republic, which shares the island of Hispaniola with Haiti, has closed its land border.

“Given the current situation, the presence of the Haitian prime minister in the Dominican Republic is not considered appropriate,” according to the statement, adding “this decision reflects the firm position of the Dominican government to safeguard its national security and stability.”

The statement described the security situation in Haiti as “totally unsustainable” and said it “poses a direct threat to the safety and stability of the Dominican Republic.”

The statement predicted “the situation could deteriorate even further if a peacekeeping force is not implemented urgently to restore order.”

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