Haitian police officers on Thursday blocked streets and forced their way into the country’s main airport to protest the recent killing of officers by armed gangs expanding their grip on the Caribbean nation.
Protesters in civilian clothes who identified themselves as police first attacked Prime Minister Ariel Henry’s official residence, according to a Reuters witness, and then flooded the airport as Henry was arriving from a trip to Argentina.
Henry was temporarily stuck in the airport, unable to leave, but returned to his residence in Port-au-Prince later on Thursday, followed by police protesters. A Reuters witness heard heavy gunfire near his home.
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Haiti’s National Police and the Prime Minister’s Office did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
One video filmed by local media showed a group of men, some of them wearing shirts with the word “Police” written on them, heatedly arguing with uniformed officers at the airport and then appearing to walk past the officers without struggle.
Roads around Port-au-Prince and in several cities to the north were blocked by protesters.
Haitian human rights group RNDDH said in a statement that 78 police officers had been killed since Henry came to power in July 2021, averaging five each month, saying the prime minister and the head of the national police Frantz Elbe were “responsible for each of the 78 lives lost during their reign.”
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“History will remember they did nothing to protect and preserve the lives of these agents who chose to serve their country,” it added, urging police to remember their duty to protect to Haitian people, despite their “frustrations.”
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Last week, four police officers near the capital were killed by the Vitelhomme gang, while shootouts on Wednesday with the Savien gang in the town of Liancourt left another seven officers dead, according to Haiti’s National Police and local media reports.
The United Nations is discussing sending a foreign strike force to confront the criminal groups. The proposal was originally made three months ago but no country has offered to lead such a force.
This week, the U.N. special envoy for Haiti urged the American and Canadian governments to lead an international armed force to help Haiti combat the gangs. Both countries appeared to show no interest in leading such a force during a U.N. Security Council meeting convened on the issue, arguing a solution to the crisis must be led by the Haitian people.
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The Haitian National Police expressed condolences to the slain officers’ families and colleagues, and said it’s “calling for peace and invites police officers to come together to bring forward an institutional response to the different criminal organizations that terrorize the Haitian people.”
Haitian police, meanwhile, are pleading for more resources.
“The movement will continue, we can’t let police get killed like this,” said one masked man in a police uniform carrying a pistol who did not want to be identified. “We can do the job if they give us ammunition.”
—With additional files from the Associated Press
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