PORT-AU-PRINCE – Haiti saw on Friday the biggest anti-government protest in years as the opposition demanded the resignation of the Caribbean nation’s president in a massive wave of demonstrations that in some places devolved into violent clashes with police and rioting.
In the capital city of Port-au-Prince, several instances of looting occurred while multiple buildings were set on fire, including a police station in the Cite Soleil district. The law enforcement officers fled the premises right before a riled-up mob burst into the station.
In the early hours of the morning, activists started blocking the capital’s main roads and avenues by setting up barricades made of rocks, fences and burning tires in their bid to force President Jovenel Moïse to step down.
The opposition blames Moïse for the country’s profound economic crisis, whose latest symptom was a fuel shortage. The capital has been at the epicenter of escalating protests throughout the past month since gas stations started refusing service in late August.
“Moïse needs to go. He isn’t our president anymore. He cannot provide solutions to our problems,” Judelin Pierre, one of the protesters, told EFE near a neighborhood in downtown Port-au-Prince at the beginning of the day.
The main demonstration saw thousands of protesters gather in the capital armed with sticks, tree branches, rocks and – in some cases – machetes. They marched down the Delmas commune toward the affluent Petion-Ville neighborhood in the southeast of the capital, where Moïse’s residence is located.
Some of them vandalized shops and vehicles in their path, while an unidentified person threw a rock at an EFE photographer, injuring his arm.
The police used riot control equipment such as tear gas to forcibly disperse the protesters upon their arrival to Petion-Ville and set up a sturdy cordon to protect the route leading up to the head of State’s residence, which is perched atop a hill.
Authorities had yet to provide the number of casualties resulting from the riots. Local media reported that several people had suffered gunshot wounds in Port-au-Prince.
According to the daily Le Nouvelliste, there were also at least 15 injured by gunfire in Cap-Haïtien – the country’s second-largest city, located on the north coast – following clashes between protesters.
The mass demonstrations erupted two days after Moïse’s address to the nation, in which the beleaguered president offered to form a national unity government and begged his people for a “truce” on the streets.
At the same time, Moïse replaced several senior officials in his cabinet and various provincial governments in a last-ditch attempt to placate the opposition.
However, Moïse’s speech and gestures seem to have enraged his opponents rather than appeasing them.
The opposition parties have been boycotting the formation of a new government for weeks – leaving Moïse’s executive in an acting capacity since March – and declined to call off Friday’s protest despite the president’s concessions.
Opposition leader Jude Celestin, the runner-up in the 2016 presidential election, called for Moïse’s immediate resignation.
“People believe that Moïse has failed in his mission. They demand his departure,” Celestin told a local radio station.
Over the past two weeks, at least four protesters have been shot to death in the unrest sparked by the ongoing fuel shortage that has yet to be resolved, police spokesman Gary Desrosiers said on Thursday.