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Haiti crisis: gangs attack police stations as Caribbean leaders call for emergency meeting

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Police and palace guards worked on Saturday to retake some streets in Haiti’s capital after gangs launched massive attacks on at least three police stations.

Guards from the National Palace accompanied by an armored truck tried to set up a security perimeter around one of the three downtown stations after police fought off an attack by gangs late Friday.

Sporadic gunfire continued to be reported on Saturday. The unrelenting gang attacks have paralysed the country for more than a week and left it with dwindling supplies of basic goods. Haitian officials extended a state of emergency and nightly curfew on Thursday as gangs continued to attack key state institutions.

Prime minister Ariel Henry, who is also acting president, was in Kenya when the gang violence began on 29 February and has been unable to return to Port-au-Prince. The US earlier this week called on him to expedite a political transition as armed gangs seek his ouster.

Caribbean leaders issued a call late on Friday for an emergency meeting Monday in Jamaica on what they called Haiti’s “dire” situation. They have invited the United States, France, Canada, the UN and Brazil to the meeting.

Members of the Caribbean Community (Caricom) regional trade bloc have been trying for months to get political actors in Haiti to agree to form an umbrella transitional unity government.

Many Haitians have been forced from their homes by the bloody street fighting and are now seeking refuge in government buildings.

So far, efforts to broker a solution have been unsuccessful. Caricom, the 15-nation Caribbean bloc, said in a statement late Friday that “the situation on the ground remains dire”.

The Caricom statement said that while regional leaders remain deeply engaged in trying to bring opposition parties and civil society groups together to form a unity government, “the stakeholders are not yet where they need to be”.

“We are acutely aware of the urgent need for consensus to be reached,” according to the statement. “We have impressed on the respective parties that time is not on their side in agreeing to the way forward.”

In February, Henry agreed to hold general elections by mid-2025, and the international community has tried to find some foreign armed force willing to fight gang violence there.

Caricom has also pushed Henry to announce a power-sharing, consensus government in the meantime, but the prime minister has yet to do so even as Haitian opposition parties and civil society groups are demanding his resignation.

US secretary of state Antony Blinken spoke with Kenyan president William Ruto about the Haiti crisis and the two men underscored their commitment to a multinational security mission to restore order, the state department said on Saturday. Kenya announced last year it would lead the force but months of domestic legal wrangling have effectively placed the mission on hold.

Henry traveled to Kenya to push for the UN-backed deployment of a police force from the east African country to fight gangs in Haiti. A Kenyan court, however, ruled in January that such a deployment would be unconstitutional.

Henry remains unable to return home. He arrived in Puerto Rico on Tuesday after he was unable to land in the Dominican Republic, which borders Haiti.

On Saturday, the office of Dominican president Luis Abinader issued a statement saying that “Henry is not welcome in the Dominican Republic for safety reasons”. The Dominican Republic, which shares the island of Hispaniola with Haiti, has closed its land border.

The statement described the security situation in Haiti as “totally unsustainable” and said it “poses a direct threat to the safety and stability of the Dominican Republic”.

The statement predicted “the situation could deteriorate even further if a peacekeeping force is not implemented urgently to restore order”.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report

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