State of emergency in Haiti as gang leader seeks to oust prime minister and prisoners escape | World News

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A state of emergency has been declared in Haiti after violence in the capital led to two prison breaks as a major gang leader tries to oust the prime minister.

The government decree follows a dramatic escalation in clashes over the weekend, which paralysed parts of Port-au-Prince and temporarily downed communications.

Heavy gunfire has caused panic in recent days after calls by gang leader Jimmy Cherizier, a former police officer, for criminal groups to unite and overthrow Ariel Henry.

In a bid to restore order, a curfew will apply from 6pm to 5am each day until Wednesday, which may be extended for another 72 hours.

Armed groups attacked the country’s largest prison on Saturday night, defying police forces who had called for help.

On Sunday, there was no sign of police officers at the National Penitentiary and the main prison doors remained open.

“I’m the only one left in my cell,” one unidentified inmate told Reuters news agency. “We were asleep when we heard the sound of bullets. The cell barriers are broken.”

The National Penitentiary following violent clashes on Sunday. Pic: Reuters
Image:
The National Penitentiary following violent clashes on Sunday. Pic: Reuters

A man calls for protesters to stop on Friday. Pic: Reuters
Image:
A man calls for protesters to stop on Friday. Pic: Reuters

It is unclear how many inmates are on the run, but sources close to the institution say it is likely to be an “overwhelming” majority.

The prison was built to keep 700 prisoners, but held 3,687 as of February last year, according to rights group RNDDH.

One voluntary prison worker on Sunday said 99 prisoners had chosen to stay in their cells for fear of being killed in the crossfire.

The bodies of three inmates who had tried to flee lay dead in the prison courtyard on Sunday, while two bodies with their hands tied behind the backs lay face down in another neighbourhood.

Among those still in the prison are 18 former Colombian soldiers who were jailed for their alleged involvement in the assassination of President Jovenel Moise, Mr Henry’s predecessor.

Colombian inmates open a gate inside the prison. Pic: AP
Image:
Colombian inmates open a gate inside the prison. Pic: AP

A police officer takes aim amid clashes. Pic: AP
Image:
A police officer takes aim amid clashes. Pic: AP

“Please, please help us,” one of the men, Francisco Uribe, said in the message widely shared on social media. “They are massacring people indiscriminately inside the cells.”

On Sunday, Mr Uribe told journalists who walked into the normally highly guarded facility: “I didn’t flee because I’m innocent.”

Mr Cherizier had warned locals earlier this week to keep children from going to school to “avoid collateral damages” as violence surged while the prime minister sought support abroad.

Read more:
Women and children rescued after gang surrounds Haiti hospital
Haitian president’s assassination: Businessman gets life in prison

Nearly 15,000 people have been forced to leave their homes in recent days, according to the UN International Organisation for Migration.

Prime Minister Henry, who came to power in 2021 after Mr Moise’s assassination, had previously pledged to step down by early February.

He later said security must first be re-established in order to ensure free and fair elections.

Read original article here.

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