Haitian Prime Minister Ariel Henry on Thursday urged calm in a public address following three days of violent protests that have paralyzed the country as thousands of protesters demand his resignation.
The brief speech in the predawn hours did little to appease people who are angry and frustrated over unrelenting gang violence, deepening poverty and a lack of any plan in sight for general elections.
“I think the time has arrived for all to put our heads together to save Haiti, to do things another way in our country,” Henry said without offering specifics.
He urged Haitians not to look at the government or at the Haitian National Police as their adversaries.
Those who choose violence, destruction and killing people to take power are “not working in the interests of the Haitian people,” he said.
Haiti’s legislature is empty, after the terms of its last 10 senators expired in January last year. The country failed to hold planned elections in 2019 and last year, and Henry assumed power with the support of the international community following the July 2021 assassination of Haitian president Jovenel Moise.
Henry’s comments come as thousands of Haitians gathered daily this week in cities and towns across the country to demand that the prime minister step down, saying they would keep protesting until he leaves.
Protesters have used tree branches, dilapidated vehicles and burning tires to block roads as some crowds attacked businesses and government buildings, leading to clashes with police who have fired tear gas and live bullets.
The demonstrations have forced at least 1,000 schools across Haiti to close temporarily, as well as banks, government agencies and private businesses.
Critical humanitarian aid also dwindled amid the chaos and food prices spiked by more than 20 percent in some areas as a result of the ongoing blockades, a report from the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said.
On Wednesday, police killed five armed environmental protection agents in the capital, Port-au-Prince, in a shooting some worry could worsen Haiti’s crisis.
Lionel Lazarre, head of a police union known as Synapoha, said that the shooting between police and agents with the Haitian Security Brigade for Protected Areas occurred in the Laboule community.
He said that the environmental agents opened fire after police asked them to drop their weapons, prompting officers to shoot.
Clashes between the environmental protection agents and police have erupted since last month, leading Henry to announce a restructuring of the environmental agency and the dismissal of its chief.
On Thursday, former rebel leader Guy Philippe, who made a surprise appearance in Port-au-Prince earlier this week, criticized the international community for backing Henry and urged environmental protection agents to take a stand and seize control of the regions where they work. He called on the agents, as well as the police and army, to “neutralize” anyone who supports Henry’s government.
“This is the only way we are going to show them that we are not playing,” he said in an interview with Radio Caraibes on Thursday. “We have to get ready to attack them.”
In a statement on Thursday, the Haitian Office of Citizen Protection condemned the killings of the environmental agents and called for an independent commission to investigate the incident.
It also said three journalists in the southern coastal city of Jeremie were injured by bullets while covering protests and accused police of seizing reporters’ equipment in the northern coastal city of Cap-Haitien, calling the incidents “serious attacks on press freedom.”
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