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Haiti police and army exchange fire in violent protest

February 24, 2020

Local media have reported one dead and several injured in Haiti after a police protest over working conditions escalated. Carnival celebrations in Port-au-Prince have been canceled to avoid a "bloodbath."

Port-au-Prince gun-fight
Image: Reuters/A. Martinez Casares

One soldier was killed in the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince on Sunday, local media reported, when police officers shot up an army headquarters in a violent escalation of protests demanding better working conditions for police.

Police officers exchanged gunfire with soldiers for hours after their protest halted near the national palace. It was unclear which side started firing first. 

Hundreds of supporters joined dozens of police officers, some in street clothes and others wearing police uniforms and face masks, as they advanced towards the palace in a protest demanding better pay.

At least three police officers and one serviceman were wounded in the attack, which the defense ministry said was carried out by gunmen wearing masks.

The situation remained tense as night fell.

Port-au-Prince gunfire exchange
The gunfire is reported to have continued for hoursImage: Reuters/A. Martinez Casares

Carnival canceled

For months, police in Haiti have demanded better working conditions, including the right to unionize. Protesters said that a union would help with issues of transparency when dealing with the police hierarchy.

Sunday's violence coincided with the start of a three-day Carnival celebration in Port-au-Prince. The celebration has since been canceled "to avoid a bloodbath," the government announced.

 A Carnival performance stage that was being guarded by the army was also set on fire, and last week, officers blocked traffic and set fire to cars.

Haitian President Jovenel Moise on Saturday tried to ease tensions by proposing measures that included creating a compensation fund for the families of police killed on duty as well as a fund to provide officers with insurance.

Since the beginning of the year, there has been an increase in the number of kidnappings for ransom on top of the issue of violence between rival gangs.

The impoverished Caribbean country has also been suffering through a political crisis for over a year.   

Moise came to power in early 2017,  but the opposition has never recognized his win, which was widely considered questionable.

kp/bk (AFP, AP, Reuters)

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