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Haiti at standstill as street clashes continue over demands for president's ouster

Jacqueline Charles, Miami Herald on

Published in News & Features

Tensions continue to flare on the streets of Haiti's capital as protesters on Monday again barricaded roads with burning tires, set a Port-au-Prince broadcast station's vehicles ablaze, and chased down a presidential police backup unit they accused of firing on a crowd and killing a motorcycle driver.

Three of the individuals who allegedly set fire to vehicles belonging to Radio Tele Ginen were arrested by Haiti National Police, who also opened an internal probe into the death of the motorcyclist after the head of the presidential guards, Dimitri Herard, was accused of firing the fatal shot at the intersection of Delmas and airport roads. After the incident, a crowd of motorcycle drivers followed the presidential police backup unit allegedly involved in the incident to Herard's home in Delmas 31 and surrounded it.

A police source said Herard, who runs the General Security Unit of the National Palace, was not taken into custody. But the inspector general's office of the Haiti National Police has launched an investigation to determine his involvement.

Herard is the third Haiti National Police officer in 24 hours to come under investigation over allegations of using excessive force following protests that erupted Sunday over corruption and demands that Haitian President Jovenel Moise step down from office over new corruption allegations. He was implicated in a government audit on the misuse of billions of dollars from Venezuela's PetroCaribe oil program.

On Sunday, Police Chief Michel-Ange Gedeon ordered an investigation into alleged police brutality after a video circulated on WhatsApp of an officer stoning a man on the ground with a rock while another officer looked on. Petionville Police Commissioner Paul Menard, who had initially told the Miami Herald that the footage was old and not near the president's Pelerin 5 residence, said Monday that he looked into the incident and found the video was in fact real.

"The person isn't dead," said Menard, who only recently arrived at his post. "But still, the behavior of the police isn't acceptable."

Gedeon has ordered that the two officers be fired and jailed pending prosecution.

On Monday, House Committee on Foreign Affairs Chairman Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., said, "I stand with the Haitian people as they call for justice and increased transparency to address corruption. I'm concerned by reports of violence and urge the country to engage in peaceful dialogue to address the population's concerns."

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Those calling for Moise's removal have vowed to keep the pressure on until he resigns. While pockets of the capital resembled a ghost town due to a two-day public transportation strike called by the opposition, the country's nominated Prime Minister Jean Michel Lapin said it wasn't on a lock-down. Private cars were still circulating, he said Monday, during a morning interview on Magik 9 radio station in Port-au-Prince.

Frantz Bernard Craan, the coordinator of the Private Sector Economic Forum and president of the Chamber of Commerce of Haiti Industry, continued to call for calm while telling Magik 9 on Monday morning that the president "has lost the confidence of all the population."

Banks and most schools in the capital city remained closed Monday. Meanwhile, lawmakers were unable to gather for the scheduled final National Assembly session because staffers were unable to report for work due to roadblocks, burning tires and stone throwing in the area.

(c)2019 Miami Herald

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