PORT-AU-PRINCE – Haitians armed with rocks, bottles and Molotov cocktails clashed with police on Friday as they called on President Jovenel Moise, blamed for a deep economic and political crisis in the troubled Caribbean country, to step down.
The clashes broke out as helmeted police with shields used trucks, water cannon and tear gas to prevent protesters from marching on the headquarters of the UN peacekeeping and justice force in Haiti near the Port-au-Prince airport.
Video images showed large crowds and black smoke billowing from burning tires in the streets. Protests were also due to take place in several smaller towns outside the Haitian capital.
Andre Michel, a political opposition leader, told Reuters this week the demonstration had been called to send out a “very strong message” that Moise needs to step down.
Many opposition leaders and disgruntled Haitians have called for Moise’s ouster, blaming him for a failure to address problems including widespread food and fuel shortages, a weakening currency, double-digit inflation and graft accusations made against public officials.
Protests in the most impoverished country in the Americas last week were among the largest and most violent in months. Specialized units of the UN-backed Haitian National Police were ransacked and looted, and two police vehicles set on fire, during some of the unrest.
Anti-government demonstrations turned especially violent in February when the United Nations said 41 people were killed and another 100 injured. Police say at least five people have been killed in clashes in the past few weeks, but Moise has given no indication he intends to resign.
Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland this week condemned all forms of violence in Haiti, and the UN reiterated earlier calls for calm.
“We continue to encourage all actors to refrain from violence, respect human rights, and allow the normal functioning of hospitals and emergency services, as well as the work of the humanitarians who are assisting the most vulnerable populations,” UN spokesman Stéphane Dujarric said on Thursday.
US Congresswoman Frederica Wilson also weighed in on the crisis, saying Haitians were fed up and Moise should leave office if the protests continue.
“We have a president of a country who the people feel is corrupt,” Wilson said at a meeting with Haitian American activists that was also attended by US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. “We’ve got to find a solution to stop the protests, or we’ve got to find a way to remove the president.”