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New gunfire hits Haiti capital as locals wait for talks progress

Armed police officers monitor a street after gang violence in the neighborhood on the evening of March 21, 2024, in Port-au-Prince, Haiti (Clarens SIFFROY)
Armed police officers monitor a street after gang violence in the neighborhood on the evening of March 21, 2024, in Port-au-Prince, Haiti (Clarens SIFFROY)

Heavy gunfire erupted early Saturday in the Haitian capital as residents, already enduring chaotic violence and grave food shortages, waited for word of progress in forming a transitional government meant to restore stability.

Residents contacted by AFP said armed criminals had attacked a base of the Departmental Operation and Intervention Brigade (BOID), a rapid-response force, in the Fort National neighborhood of Port-au-Prince.

Another specialized unit in the capital area, the Motorized Intervention Brigade (BIM), was also attacked, locals said.

The scenes of chaos played out as the impoverished Caribbean country continued a tense wait for the establishment of a transitional government -- part of a deal that brought the promised resignation of unpopular Prime Minister Ariel Henry.

A video meeting set for Saturday afternoon between members of a presidential transitional council, representing a range of Haitian society, with representatives of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) was delayed until Monday, according to an official close to the council.

The council members met among themselves Saturday morning, but were unable to reach an agreement on how the body will function.

Henry agreed on March 11 to resign when the council is in place, but negotiations over its formation have been slow despite pressure from neighboring Caribbean countries and the United States.

The council is meant to name an interim prime minister to oversee the country's first elections since 2016.

The political chaos and street violence are taking place against a backdrop of increasingly desperate hunger.

Farhan Haq, a spokesman for the UN secretary-general, said roughly half the Haitian population faces "crisis or worse levels of acute food insecurity."

Haiti has been rocked by violence since late February, when the country's gangs launched a coordinated offensive, raiding a prison and releasing thousands of inmates as they demanded Henry resign.

Amid the sharply worsening conditions, more than 33,000 people have fled the capital area in the past two weeks, according to the UN International Organization for Migration.

A state of emergency has been declared in the capital region until April, while an overnight curfew has been prolonged until Tuesday, the prime minister's office said.

Many foreigners have fled the country, and the US Embassy has been evacuating American citizens hoping to leave.

The State Department said Friday evening it had helped 230 citizens leave since March 17.

And it renewed a blunt warning to US citizens: "Do not travel to Haiti."

bbk/md/des/acb