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Haiti declares state of emergency after gangs lead mass prison break

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PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti —Haiti is under nighttime curfew after armed gangs led a mass prison break and demanded the resignation of the country’s prime minister, who is abroad seeking support for a United Nations-backed international security force for the Caribbean nation.

The curfew is part of a renewable 72-hour state of emergency imposed Sunday, following an attack by gunmen on the country’s largest prison, the National Penitentiary, late Saturday. The attack allowed a large portion of the prison’s estimated 4,000 inmates to escape, according to Finance Minister Patrick Boivert.

In a statement, Boivert accused Haitian gangs of numerous violent criminal acts, including kidnapping, assassinations and violence against women and children, as well as the attacks on prisons.

“The police were ordered to use all legal means at their disposal to enforce the curfew and apprehend all offenders,” Boivert said. He wrote that the curfew would run from 8 p.m. until 5 a.m.

The dramatic escalation of violence comes after Jimmy Chérizier — a former police officer turned gang leader known by the nickname “Barbecue” — called for Haiti’s warring criminal factions to unite to oust the country’s acting prime minister, Ariel Henry.

Gangs, such as Chérizier’s G9 Family and Allies alliance, are now estimated to control up to 80 percent of the Haitian capital Port-au-Prince amid a surge in violence that led to 4,789 homicides last year, according to the United Nations.

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It was not immediately clear how many died in the weekend’s violence, though a journalist at Spanish news agency EFE recounted seeing at least 10 dead bodies at the National Penitentiary.

Henry, a neurosurgeon who has served as Haiti’s top official since the 2021 assassination of President Jovenel Moïse, left the country last week to try to rally support for an international security force. In Nairobi, he attended a signing ceremony for reciprocal agreements that could help send 1,000 Kenyan police officers to Haiti to lead a U.N.-backed international police force.

Henry’s trip to Kenya came after the African country’s top court ruled that a 2023 agreement to send police officers to Haiti would be unconstitutional because Kenya’s National Police Force cannot be deployed outside of the country and the two nations did not have reciprocal agreements.

In a lecture at Kenya’s United States International University on Friday, Henry said elections were needed to stabilize the country. “We need democratic governance in order to have people to come and invest in Haiti,” he said.

Haiti has no elected officials in power and has not held elections in almost a decade. Caribbean leaders said late Wednesday that Henry had agreed to hold general elections by mid-2025, though security concerns hang over any such pledges.

The Biden administration has refused to commit troops to an international force in Haiti, instead focusing on providing other types of aid. In a security alert issued Sunday, the U.S. Embassy in Port-au-Prince said U.S. citizens should “depart Haiti as soon as possible” and said its operations may be affected by “gang-related violence and its effects on transportation and infrastructure.”

State Department spokesman Matthew Miller told reporters Monday that the United States is monitoring the situation, and condemned efforts by gangs to “further destabilize and take control of Haiti.”

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“It’s our understanding that the prime minister is returning to the country,” Miller said. “We think it’s important that he do so, and that he be allowed to do so.”

Internet service in the country went down for some users Sunday, with the Caribbean company Digicel later stating that a connection had been cut as a result of violent clashes in the Cazeau area of Port-au-Prince. The company was able to repair the connection, Digicel chairman Maarten Boute wrote on X.

“Very special thanks to our brave technicians who worked tirelessly, in very precarious conditions to make this possible,” Boute wrote.

Taylor reported from Washington.

Source: Washington Post

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