Rebel Haiti police rampage through capital to protest cop killings by gangs

1 month ago

Disgruntled police officers have rampaged through the streets of Haiti’s capital of Port-au-Prince, blocking roads, shooting guns into the air and forcing their way into the country’s main airport to protest a slew of killings of police officers by Haitian gangs.

Gangs have killed at least 10 officers in the past week; another is missing and one more has severe bullet wounds, according to the Haitian national police.

A video circulated on social media showed the naked and bloodied bodies of six officers stretched out on the dirt, their guns lying on their chests. The gang which killed them, known as Gan Grif, still has the bodies, police said.

The killings are just the latest example of escalating violence in the Caribbean nation, which has been gripped by gang wars and political chaos following the 2021 assassination of President Jovenel Moïse. His unelected successor has asked the United Nations to lead a military intervention, but no country has been willing to put boots on the ground.

The deaths enraged members of Fantom 509, an armed group of current and former police officers that has violently demanded better conditions for officers.

Dozens of these men wove through the city on Thursday, many wearing hoods along with police uniforms, flak jackets and rifles and automatic weapons. They seized buses to blockade roads and torched tires across the city, leaving smoke billowing through the streets.

Many demanded tougher crackdowns on the gangs and called for an end to the current government of Ariel Henry, which many Haitians view as illegitimate. At one point, demonstrators broke down one of the gates outside Henry’s home.

“If they are killing police officers, me as a citizen, what should I do?” one protester in a mask screamed into an Associated Press camera. “The police are second only to God and we’re going to stand behind them.”

Protesters in civilian clothes also flooded the airport where Henry was forced to cancel a press conference after arriving from a trip to Argentina. Local media reported that armed men were robbing foreign passengers in the car park.

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.

A video recorded by local Haitian media shows empty streets and closed businesses on a key road in Port-au-Prince where the rebel group passed through.

In addition to the bodies displayed by the gang, a number of officers were killed last week in a skirmish with gangs in a neighborhood that was once considered relatively safe.

The Haitian national police expressed condolences to the slain officers’ families and colleagues, and said it was “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”.

The United Nations estimates that 60% of Port-au-Prince is controlled by the gangs. On the streets of the capital, Haitians say it is more like 100%.

This week, the UN special envoy for Haiti urged the US and Canadian governments to lead an international armed force to help Haiti combat the gangs. Haitian police, meanwhile, are pleading for more resources.

Some on the streets said they would continue to protest.

“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.”

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