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Haiti Police Fire on Protesters Blocking National Palace Entrance

Haiti's National Police guard remove makeshift barricades made of steel fences and tree branches protesters placed to block the National Palace entrance, Oct. 31, 2019. (Photo: Matiado Vilme / VOA)

Haitian National Police fired on protesters who attempted to keep them from removing a makeshift roadblock made of large tree branches and metal fences blocking two entrances leading into the National Palace.

"Keep your distance," a masked officer from the national palace guard unit shouted at a group of protesters, gun in hand. "Stay back!"

But the protesters refused to back down. The shooting began after they pelted the officers with rocks as they began dismantling the barricade. It is unclear if anyone was wounded or killed.

Non-stop protests

Haiti has seen daily protests for weeks, with most sectors of society — including some members of the national police force — hitting the streets nationwide to demand President Jovenel Moise's resignation. As a result, businesses have shuttered, schools remain closed and basic necessities are running out.

The mobilization was originally sparked by a fuel price hike last summer. But a corruption report implicating the president's businesses, high inflation, double-digit unemployment and the president's seeming inability to put order to chaos has stoked anger.

On Wednesday, the country's medical sector added its voice to the call for his resignation.

But Moise, who is on year two of a five-year term, has refused to resign and called instead for reforms and a national dialogue to discuss forming a new government. The opposition flatly rejected the offer.

In an exclusive interview with VOA Creole on Tuesday, Jon Piechowski, deputy assistant secretary of state overseeing public diplomacy in the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs, reiterated that the United States backs Haiti's democratic institutions and is "urging all political stakeholders to sit down together as soon as possible and enter into dialogue to discuss forming a government.”

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Piechowski said if the opposition doesn't participate in a dialogue to get things moving forward again, the situation will only get worse.

“We would like to see conditions in the country that will allow (U.S.) cooperation to be completely restored. But until the country has a functional government, we will not cooperate with Haiti,” he said.

Congressman Andy Levin, a Democrat from Michigan, tweeted his concern about what's happening in Haiti Wednesday and said he had met with a group of Haitian lawmakers who are visiting Washington.

"Our discussion confirmed my fears that the situation there has reached a breaking point," he said on Twitter.

"I will accelerate my efforts in Congress to change U.S. policy to demand (for) the Haitian people what citizens of any country deserve: freedom from violence, transparency, accountability for wrongdoing and timely elections of authentic, democratic representatives."

Republican Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida also tweeted concern.

"The ongoing social & political unrest in #Haiti should be a cause of grave concern for the stability & democratic future of our region. The U.S. stands in support of the Haitian people & their desire of finding a peaceful & negotiated solution to resolve the current crisis."

But with the opposition, anti-corruption activists and the protesters who support them refusing to back down, the crisis drags on.

Protesters use machetes to cut down tree branches for their makeshift barricade to block the entrance to the National Palace in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Oct. 31, 2019. (Photo: Matiado Vilme)
Protesters use machetes to cut down tree branches for their makeshift barricade to block the entrance to the National Palace in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Oct. 31, 2019. (Photo: Matiado Vilme)

Earlier Thursday, the scene near the National Palace was calm as protesters climbed trees, machetes in hand, chopping branches then placing them across the road to make it impassible.

"This is a new strategy," a protester told VOA Creole. "The guys who do nothing but talk have it too easy in the shade (of these trees). They don't want to fight. So, we decided to chop the trees to keep Jovenel out so he understands he has to go."

"We want to live in peace. We want a normal life," a protester standing next to him said.