PORT-AU-PRINCE, HAITI - Protesters freed four police officers from behind bars in Haiti's capital on Wednesday, local media reported, as demonstrations over a botched police raid on a gang stronghold and anger at state authorities roiled the city for a fifth day.
A deepening economic and political crisis in the poorest country in the Americas has led to a surge in kidnappings and murders as gangs have gained power, turning ever more areas of the capital and other cities into no-go areas.
Masked, heavily armed members of the Fantom 509 group, who describe themselves as disaffected police officers and ex-officers, told local media they believed their colleagues had been unjustly detained in a Port-au-Prince police station.
The police had no immediate comment on the incident or why the officers had been detained. Lawyers for the officers said in a statement they were victims of the politicization of Haiti's police force and the failures of its justice system.
The Fantom 509 members said they were also protesting the fact authorities had not recovered the bodies of four policemen who died last Friday in a botched attack on a gang stronghold where kidnapping victims are often held.
Trainee police officers joined in the jail break while citizens took to the street for a fifth day to block roads with vehicles, debris and burning tires, also vandalizing a car dealership.
President Jovenel Moise declared on Wednesday a state of emergency in the worst gang-controlled areas for one month in order to allow state security forces to regain control of the situation.
Critics accuse the government of not sufficiently equipping the police to confront gangs, even if it has slightly raised its budget for the police this year.
They also accuse it of fostering gang activity either by design, to intimidate opponents, or simply by inaction. Gang leaders or even former government officials implicated in massacres in opposition strongholds have not been arrested.