Thousands march in Haiti to demand safety from gangs

Several thousand people have marched through Haiti’s capital demanding protection from violent gangs who are pillaging neighbourhoods in the capital Port-au-Prince and beyond.

Haitians’ daily lives have been disrupted by incessant gang violence that has worsened poverty across the country as it awaits a decision from the UN Security Council over a potential deployment of an international armed force.

“We want security!” the crowd chanted as it marched for two hours from the troubled community of Carrefour-Feuilles to Champ de Mars in the downtown area and then to the prime minister’s official residence, where police broke up the demonstration with tear gas.

“I can’t work. I can’t go out. I’m like a prisoner in my own home,” said Wilene Joseph, a 36-year-old street vendor and mother of two who joined the march out of frustration.

“I worry about my kids being shot because bullets are flying from all directions all the time,” Joseph said of her children, ages 5 and 7. “The situation is unacceptable.”

Since the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse in 2021, experts say gangs have seized control of up to 80 per cent of Port-au-Prince, killing, raping and sowing terror in communities already suffering endemic poverty.

From January to March, more than 1600 people have been reported killed, injured or kidnapped, a nearly 30 per cent increase compared with the last three months of 2022, according to the newest UN report.

The UNICEF agency noted that women and children are increasingly being kidnapped and used for financial or tactical gain.

Among those kidnapped in late July was Alix Dorsainvil, a US nurse from New Hampshire, and her young daughter.

Ms Dorsainvil works for El Roi Haiti, a Christian organisation that offers medical care, education and other services. She and her daughter remain in the hands of their captors, who are demanding $1 million in ransom.

Thousands of Haitians yelled “Bwa kale!” on Monday as they marched, a reference to a violent uprising that began earlier this year, with civilians targeting suspected gang members.

More than 200 people have been slain since then, and demonstrators vowed to keep the movement alive as gangs overwhelm Haiti’s understaffed and under resourced police department.

Last October, Haiti’s prime minister and other top-ranking officials requested the urgent deployment of an international armed force to help quell gang violence.

In late July, Kenya offered to lead a multinational police force, but the UN Security Council has yet to vote on a resolution to authorise a non-UN multinational mission. The US said last week that it would put forward such a resolution.

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