Haiti declares a state of emergency after gangs lead mass.jpgw1440

Haiti declares a state of emergency after gangs lead mass prison escapes

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) — A nighttime curfew is in effect in Haiti after armed gangs led a mass prison break and demanded the resignation of the country's prime minister, who was abroad seeking support for a United Nations-backed campaign international security force for the Caribbean state.

The curfew is part of an extendable 72-hour state of emergency imposed on Sunday following an attack by gunmen on the country's largest prison, the National Penitentiary, late Saturday. According to Finance Minister Patrick Boivert, the attack enabled a large proportion of the prison's estimated 4,000 inmates to escape.

In a statement, Boivert accused Haitian gangs of numerous violent crimes, including kidnappings, assassinations and violence against women and children, as well as attacks on prisons.

“The police have been ordered to use all legal means at their disposal to enforce the curfew and arrest all offenders,” Boivert said. He wrote that the curfew would be from 8 p.m. to 5 a.m

The dramatic escalation in violence comes after Jimmy Chérizier – a former police officer turned gang leader known by the nickname “Barbecue” – called on Haiti's warring criminal factions to unite around the country's incumbent prime minister , Ariel Henry, to overthrow.

According to the United Nations, gangs such as Chérizier's G9 Family and Allies alliance are now estimated to control up to 80 percent of the Haitian capital Port-au-Prince, while violence led to 4,789 murders last year.

It was not immediately clear how many people died in the weekend violence, although a journalist with Spanish news agency EFE reported seeing at least 10 bodies in the national prison.

Henry, a neurosurgeon who has been Haiti's top official since the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse in 2021, left the country last week to rally support for an international security force. In Nairobi, he attended a signing ceremony for mutual agreements that could help send 1,000 Kenyan police officers to Haiti to lead a United Nations-backed international police force.

Henry's trip to Kenya came after the African country's top court ruled that a 2023 agreement to send police officers to Haiti was unconstitutional because the Kenya National Police cannot be deployed outside the country and the two nations have no reciprocal agreements would have.

Speaking at the United States International University in Kenya on Friday, Henry said elections were necessary to stabilize the country. “We need democratic governance so that people can come and invest in Haiti,” he said.

Haiti has no elected officials in power and has not held elections in nearly a decade. Caribbean leaders said late Wednesday that Henry had agreed to hold a general election by mid-2025, although security concerns were behind such pledges.

The Biden administration refused to send troops to an international force in Haiti, instead focusing on providing other types of aid. In a security alert issued Sunday, the U.S. Embassy in Port-au-Prince said U.S. citizens should “leave Haiti as soon as possible” and said its operations are being impacted by “gang-related violence and its impact on transportation and infrastructure.” could.

State Department spokesman Matthew Miller told reporters on Monday that the United States was monitoring the situation and condemned efforts by gangs to “further destabilize and take control of Haiti.”

“We expect the prime minister to return to the country,” Miller said. “We think it’s important that he does that and that he’s allowed to do that.”

Internet service in the country was down for some users on Sunday. Caribbean company Digicel later said a connection had been cut due to violent clashes in the Cazeau area of ​​Port-au-Prince. The company was able to repair the connection, Digicel Chairman Maarten Boute wrote on X.

“A very special thank you goes to our brave technicians who worked tirelessly and under very precarious conditions to make this possible,” Boute wrote.

Taylor reported from Washington.