Haitian PM urges calm as protesters, rioters insist that he resigns

  • Haitian Prime Minister Ariel Henry urged his constituents to remain calm in a Thursday address, as protests over his leadership turn violent across the country.
  • “I think the time has arrived for all to put our heads together to save Haiti, to do things another way in our country,” Henry said, castigating the violent tactics of opponents “not working in the interests of the Haitian people.”
  • Demonstrators had called on Henry to resign by Wednesday, the anniversary of former dictator Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier’s 1986 exile and the 1991 inauguration of democratically-elected former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

Haitian Prime Minister Ariel Henry urged calm in a public address early Thursday following three days of violent protests that have paralyzed the country as thousands of protesters demand his resignation.

The brief speech in the pre-dawn hours did little to appease people who are angry and frustrated over unrelenting gang violence, deepening poverty and the lack of any plan in sight for general elections.

“I think the time has arrived for all to put our heads together to save Haiti, to do things another way in our country,” Henry said without offering specifics.

PROTESTS ERUPT ACROSS HAITI, AS DEMONSTRATORS DEMAND PRIME MINISTER’S RESIGNATION

He urged Haitians not to look at the government or at Haiti’s National Police as their adversaries. Those who choose violence, destruction and killing people to take power are “not working in the interests of the Haitian people,” he said.

His comments come as thousands of Haitians gathered daily this week in cities and towns across the country to demand that Henry step down, saying they will keep protesting until he leaves.

Haiti’s legislature is currently empty, after the terms of its last 10 senators expired in January 2023. The country failed to hold planned elections in 2019 and 2023, and Henry assumed power with the support of the international community following the July 2021 assassination of President Jovenel Moïse.

On Wednesday, police killed five armed environmental protection agents in the capital of Port-au-Prince in a shooting some worry could worsen Haiti’s crisis.

Haitian anti-government protests

An anti-government protester prepares to throw another tire atop a burning barricade in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, on Wednesday, Feb. 7, 2024. (AP Photo/Odelyn Joseph)

Lionel Lazarre, head of a police union known as Synapoha, told The Associated Press that the shooting between police and agents with Haiti’s Security Brigade for Protected Areas occurred in the Laboule community. He claimed that the environmental agents opened fire after police asked them to drop their weapons, prompting officers to shoot.

Clashes between the environmental protection agents and police have erupted since January, leading Henry to announce a restructuring of the environmental agency and the dismissal of its chief.

In a statement on Thursday, Haiti’s Office of Citizen Protection condemned the killings of the environmental agents and called for an independent commission to investigate the incident.

It also said three journalists in the southern coastal city of Jeremie were injured by bullets while covering protests and accused police of seizing reporters’ equipment in the northern coastal city of Cap-Haïtien, calling the incidents “serious attacks on press freedom.”

In his speech, Henry said Haitians need peace, security, work and the ability to move freely around the country.

“Haitian people need for their children to go to school without fear, because that’s what’s going to guarantee them a future,” he said.

Henry once again pledged to hold general elections as soon as Haiti’s insecurity issues are resolved, saying he would continue to reach out and work with all those who want the country to move forward, “to take decisions together that are going to help us emerge from the crisis.”

He also congratulated police for their efforts in fighting gangs and promised he would keep pushing for the U.N.-backed deployment of a Kenyan police force that is currently blocked by a court order.

“I want to reassure everyone the government will do whatever it can for the mission to come as fast as possible,” he said.

Henry also extended his sympathies to all those who have died in the violent protests this week.

“I give you assurance that the Haitian people will have peace and development with prosperity,” Henry said, without providing details. “Together, hand-in-hand, we will change our destiny.”

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Haitians said they wanted Henry to step down by Feb. 7, the date Haitian leaders are typically sworn into office. The date also carries deep historical significance in Haiti: On that date in 1986, former dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier fled for France, and in 1991, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, Haiti’s first democratically-elected president, was sworn in.