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Haitian gang leader vows to oust prime minister

A demonstrator holds up a Haitian flag during a protest against prime minister Ariel Henry's government and insecurity, in Port-au-Prince, Haiti March 1, 2024. (Photo by Reuters)

Haitian gang leader Jimmy Cherizier has warned that he will keep trying to oust Prime Minister Ariel Henry, as the Caribbean island country marked a second day of deadly gun violence.

Cherizier, also known as Barbecue, said on Friday that he would keep trying to oust Henry, no matter how long it takes, and urged families to keep children from going to school to “avoid collateral damages.”

“The battle will last as long as it needs to. We will keep fighting Ariel Henry. To avoid collateral damage, keep the kids at home,” the gang leader said at a press conference.

The capital Port-au-Prince has been seized through a series of coordinated violent attacks by gang members since Thursday, killing at least four police officers and injuring dozens.

It was met with heavy gunfire on Friday, while some 200,000 innocent people tried to flee their homes in search of havens, amidst burnt vehicles and rising grey smoke laying bare the disrupted civic system.

In a statement, Henry’s office said it was “outraged by the acts of violence and terror orchestrated by armed bandits,” and expressed condolences to the victims’ families, saying the government would continue to work to resolve the conflict.

The organized havoc is a part of a coordinated effort by gangs, united under the label “Vivre Ensemble” (living together).

Violence has engulfed the capital ever since Henry visited Kenya this week to sign a security deal under which Nairobi will provide a thousand international police officers to control the growing violence in Haiti, which comes under an UN-approved mission.

"The injured come from everywhere now. There are no more quiet areas," Mumuza Muhindo, head of Doctors Without Borders (MSF) mission, told AFP.

"It's becoming difficult for our staff to get into our centers," he said.

"If the situation doesn't change, it will be complicated to continue to maintain our activities."

The flights at the capital’s airport were disrupted for a second straight day, with Haitian airline Sunrise Airways suspending all flights owing to the heavy gunfire.

Rapid gunfire near the airport had “caused damage to some aircraft and endangered users” of the domestic terminal, according to Sunrise Airways.

A former elite police officer turned, Cherizier, who now runs the gang federation G9 and Family and Allies, claimed responsibility for the attacks.

By Friday evening, reports suggested that a group of individuals carrying weapons had made an effort to seize authority over the primary container port in the capital, while criminal organizations posed a threat to target additional police stations within the city.

In recent years, vast portions of the country have fallen under the control of armed gangs, resulting in a wave of severe violence that has devastated the Haitian economy and public health system.

In January alone, a staggering number of 1,100 individuals fell victim to death, injury, or abduction, marking it as the most brutal month in two years, as stated by the United Nations.

The UN integrated office in Haiti (BIUH) further revealed that the violence persisted throughout the previous year, with over 8,400 people suffering from its devastating consequences.

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