Haiti prison breakout A state of emergency is declared as

Haiti prison breakout: A state of emergency is declared as thousands of prisoners escape after armed gangs stormed the main prison

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The Haitian government declared a state of emergency in response to severe unrest in the capital that crippled communications networks and led to two prison breaks, all amid efforts by a prominent gang leader to oust Prime Minister Ariel Henry from power.

To restore order, the government imposed a curfew across the Western Territory with immediate effect for a “renewable period of seventy-two hours,” the authorities' statement said.

The curfew applies “between six o’clock in the evening and five in the morning on Monday 4th, Tuesday 5th, Wednesday 6th and this Sunday 3rd March 2024”.

At least five People were killed and thousands of inmates escaped from Haiti's main prison after armed gangs stormed the facility overnight.

The prison break marks a new low in Haiti's downward spiral of violence and comes as gangs gain tighter control of the capital while embattled Prime Minister Ariel Henry tries abroad to drum up support for a United Nations-backed security force to stabilize the country to win the country.

On Sunday morning, the bodies of three people with gunshot wounds were seen on the floor at the wide-open prison entrance, with no guards in sight. Officers in a single police car stationed outside the facility would not say what happened.

In another district, residents walked past roadblocks made of burning tires and passed the bloodstained bodies of two men, their hands tied behind their backs and lying face down.

Arnel Remy, a human rights lawyer who runs a nonprofit that works in the prisons, said on X, formerly Twitter, that fewer than 100 of the facility's nearly 4,000 inmates remain behind bars.

Among those who have chosen to stay are 18 former Colombian soldiers accused of working as mercenaries in the assassination of Haitian President Jovenel Moïse in July 2021. On Saturday evening, amid the unrest, several Colombians shared a video in which they made urgent pleas for their lives.

“Please, please help us,” one of the men, Francisco Uribe, said in the 30-second video message that was shared widely on social media. “They massacre people indiscriminately in the cells.”

A man climbs the fence of a Haitian energy utility office that was set on fire during a protest

(Copyright 2024 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

During the chaos, the police also called for help.

“They need help,” a union representing Haitian police said in a message posted on social media that included an “SOS” emoji repeated eight times. “Let us mobilize the army and police to prevent the bandits from breaking into the prison.”

The armed clashes follow a series of violent protests that have been building for some time but have grown more deadly in recent days as Prime Minister Henry traveled to Kenya to rescue a planned security mission in Haiti led by that East African country should. Henry took over as prime minister after Moise's assassination and has repeatedly postponed plans to hold parliamentary and presidential elections that have not taken place in nearly a decade.

In coordinated gang attacks, four police officers were killed in the capital on Thursday when gunmen opened fire on targets including Haiti's international airport. Gang members also took control of two police stations, causing civilians to flee in fear and prompting the closure of businesses and schools.

Due to the violence at the airport, the US Embassy in Port-au-Prince said it was temporarily suspending all official travel to Haiti.

Police take cover during an anti-gang operation in Port-au-Prince

(Copyright 2024 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

According to the United Nations, Haiti's National Police has around 9,000 officers ensuring the security of more than 11 million people. Officials are regularly overwhelmed and outgunned by powerful gangs that are estimated to control up to 80% of Port-au-Prince.

Jimmy Chérizier, a former elite police officer known as Barbecue who now heads a gang organization, claimed responsibility for the increase in attacks. He said the goal was to capture the police chief and Haitian government ministers and prevent Henry's return.

The prime minister, a neurosurgeon, has shrugged off calls for his resignation and made no comment when asked whether he thought it was safe to return home.

He signed mutual agreements with Kenyan President William Ruto on Friday to salvage a plan to send Kenyan police to Haiti. Kenya's Supreme Court ruled in January that the planned deployment was unconstitutional, partly because the original agreement did not contain any reciprocal agreements between the two countries.

The violence has complicated efforts to stabilize Haiti and pave the way for elections. Caribbean leaders said Wednesday that Henry had agreed to set a vote by mid-2025 – a distant date that would likely further anger Henry's opponents.