Hundreds protest government in Haiti despite police tear gas, demand PM resignation

Latin America & Caribbean REUTERS - RALPH TEDY EROL

A former rebel leader arrived in Haiti's capital on Tuesday amid large protests across the country for the second consecutive day, demanding the ouster of Prime Minister Ariel Henry.

Haitian national police used tear gas to disperse protesters, who set fire to car tires, filling streets with clouds of grey smoke.

Henry assumed power shortly after the assassination of the country's last president, Jovenel Moise, in 2021. Since then a power vacuum has allowed the rise of powerful gangs who have largely gathered around two main alliances, G9 and G-Pep.

The protests shut down major cities in Haiti on Monday, as demonstrators clashed with police and demanded the resignation of the Prime Minister.

Banks, schools and government agencies closed in Haiti's northern and southern regions while protesters blocked main routes with blazing tires and paralyzed public transportation, according to local media reports.

In Hinche, a city in Haiti's central region, protesters celebrated the arrival of heavily armed state environmental agents and their commander, Joseph Jean Baptiste, who demanded that Henry resign.

More protests are expected today, Wednesday, across Haiti, as 7 February has been mooted as the deadline for Henry to resign.

The date is significant in Haiti: On 7 Feb. 1986, former dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier fled for France, and on 7 Feb. 1991 Jean-Bertrand Aristide, Haiti's first democratically-elected president, was sworn in.

Long-awaited peacekeeping mission

With the rise of gangs and increasing violence on the Caribbean island, the United Nations have been pushing for an international police mission, to be led by Kenyan police officers.

But a Kenyan court ruled against Nairobi's plan to deploy the police officers to support the troubled island nation's security forces.

Haiti's government said in late January that it remained hopeful for a "swift and positive outcome" nonetheless.

The ruling has thrown the possibility of a UN-backed multinational force long sought by Haiti's government, which has pleaded for international help to confront its spiralling security crisis.

Kenya's government had previously said it was ready to provide up to 1,000 personnel, an offer welcomed by the United States and other nations that had ruled out putting their own forces on the ground.

Kenyan President William Ruto had described his country's undertaking as a "mission for humanity," in step with its long record of contributing to peacekeeping missions abroad.

Haiti has been in turmoil for years, with armed gangs taking over parts of the country and unleashing brutal violence, leaving the economy and public health system in tatters.

The 2021 assassination of President Jovenel Moise plunged the country further into chaos.

No elections have taken place since 2016 and the presidency remains vacant.

 (with newswires)