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Haiti in chaos: Gang leader threatens to arrest top officials amid gunfire

People move away from an area where police confront armed gangs after prominent gang leader Jimmy Cherizier called for Haiti's Prime Minister Ariel Henry's government to be toppled, in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, February 29, 2024. (Photo by Reuters)

Violent gunfire battles have engulfed the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince, killing at least four police officers, as a powerful gang leader announced that he would oust Prime Minister Ariel Henry and try to capture the country’s police chief, ministers.

Gunshots were still heard on Thursday evening, with numerous Haitians spotted carrying children and large bags filled with their belongings as they escaped from their communities.

They lifted their hands in a gesture of peace towards possible gang members as they hurried through street crossings.

The clashes in Port-au-Prince came the same day Henry arrived in Kenya, regarding talks over the deployment of 1,000 multinational Kenyan police officers to the troubled Caribbean nation to help combat gang violence.

"We have chosen to take our destiny in our own hands. The battle we are waging will not only topple the Ariel (Henry) government. It is a battle that will change the whole system," said former cop and gang leader Jimmy Cherizier, also known as Barbecue, in a video shared on social media.

According to witness statements, thousands of people were in the process of fleeing the downtown area of the capital, as everything came to a standstill because of the terror.

In a recorded video, Cherizier, who is the leader of the gang federation G9 Family and Allies, announced that his aim was to tie up the police chief and government ministers and prevent Henry from returning to Haiti.

"With our guns and with the Haitian people, we will free the country," he said.

Gangs have expanded their territories ever since the island country’s last president, Jovenel Moïse was assassinated in 2021, after which Henry came to power, who had vowed to step down in February, but later claimed that the nation’s security must be re-established for elections to take place.

Kenya had earlier agreed in October to lead an UN-authorized international police force to Haiti, but the Kenyan High Court in January ruled the plan unconstitutional in part because of a lack of “reciprocal agreements” between the two countries.

In 2022, Henry urgently requested the UN for an international force, and on Thursday, a UN spokesperson announced that five countries had officially informed it about their intention to provide personnel for this force.

The UN estimates the conflict killed close to 5,000 people last year and has driven some 300,000 from their homes, while the fighting has blocked off access to food and medical services.

Earlier this week, Henry had told regional leaders he would hold a vote by August 2025.

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