Gunbattle between Haitian Police and Gangs Paralyzes Area Near National Palace

REUTERS/Ralph Tedy Erol
People flee their homes as officers of the Haitian National Police take part in an anti-gang operation following a confrontation with armed gangs after prominent gang leader Jimmy Cherizier called for Haiti’s Prime Minister Ariel Henry’s government to be toppled, in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, February 29, 2024.

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) — Heavy gunfire erupted Monday in the downtown area of Haiti’s capital as police battled gang members near the National Palace for several hours.

Local media reported that at least one policeman was shot after he and other officers were forced to flee an armored car that was later set on fire.

Scores of people were trapped by the gunfire in downtown Port-au-Prince while dozens of others managed to flee. One man who declined to provide his name out of fear for his life told The Associated Press that he was stuck for five hours until police rescued him.

“It’s the armored car that covered us (so we could) leave the area,” he said.

A spokesman for Haiti’s National Police did not return messages for comment.

The latest gunbattle comes more than a month after powerful gangs began attacking key government infrastructure. They have torched police stations, opened fire on the main international airport that remains closed and stormed the country’s two biggest prisons, releasing more than 4,000 inmates.

The violence has somewhat subsided in certain areas since the attacks began on Feb. 29, but gunfire still echoes daily.

At least 1,554 people have been reported killed up to March 22 and another 826 injured, according to the U.N.

The situation forced Prime Minister Ariel Henry to announce last month that he would resign as soon as a transitional council is created. Henry, who was on an official trip to Kenya to push for the U.N.-backed deployment of a police force from the East African country, remains locked out of Haiti.

The proposed transitional council of nine members, which has yet to be formally established, will be responsible for choosing a new prime minister and council of ministers.

On Monday night, Haiti’s government issued a statement raising concerns over its creation, saying that the current council of ministers “stumbled over proven constitutional and legal questions. The Constitution and Haitian laws nowhere provide for this institution.”

The government noted the ministers met Monday to talk about the transitional council and shared the draft decree with legal experts so they “could finalize it and make it compliant with the laws of the republic.”

The current council of ministers also plans to create a joint commission to oversee the handover of responsibilities.

Haiti’s government noted that Henry received a list of nine people nominated to the transitional council on Friday and a draft decree establishing the council on Sunday.