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Armed men attack police stations near National Palace as Haiti’s gang violence spirals

Two police stations near Haiti’s National Palace were attacked by armed individuals Friday night, as gang violence in the Caribbean nation’s capital of Port-au-Prince continued to spiral.

“We are still working to get the situation under control as soon as possible. We are doing our best with what we have,” a security source in Port-au-Prince told CNN.

The Haitian capital has been gripped by a wave of highly coordinated gang attacks on law enforcement and state institutions in what gang leader Jimmy Cherizier has described as an attempt to overthrow Prime Minister Ariel Henry’s government.

Armed groups have burned down police stations and released thousands of inmates from two prisons, and Cherizier has warned of “a civil war that will end in genocide” if the prime minister does not step down.

The US State Department arranged for the evacuation of non-essential personnel from the US embassy overnight due to “heightened gang violence.” US Southern Command said in a statement Sunday the move was consistent with “standard practice for Embassy security augmentation worldwide.”

“Our Embassy remains focused on advancing U.S. government efforts to support the Haitian people,” US Southern Command said, adding that the evacuation helps to “allow our Embassy mission operations to continue.”

President Joe Biden approved the operation, according to a National Security Council spokesperson, and remains “deeply concerned” about the situation.

The German and European Union missions in Port-au-Prince have also evacuated diplomatic staff, according to two sources with knowledge of the situation. CNN has reached out to both for comment.

Henry has had difficulty returning to the country since leaving for Kenya last week to sign an agreement for a Kenyan-led multinational mission to restore security back home.

He is now believed to be in Puerto Rico, two sources with knowledge of Henry’s movements in the Caribbean island told CNN, after the Dominican Republic refused to let his flight land.

On Friday, Haitian police union Synapoha encouraged all police officers to reinforce their police stations. “We need to stay united to not lose our symbol, the police. The leadership needs to put adequate support for all the units,” the union said.

The violence comes just a day after intruders broke into Port-au-Prince’s Caribbean Port Services (CPS) terminal, a major player in Haiti’s food import supply chain.

A woman cries as she walks near her husband's shop that armed gang members set fire to in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, March 7, 2024. Haiti's troubled capital is under a state of emergency as authorities struggle to rein in violent gangs demanding the prime minister resign. - Clarens Siffroy/AFP/Getty Images
A woman cries as she walks near her husband's shop that armed gang members set fire to in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, March 7, 2024. Haiti's troubled capital is under a state of emergency as authorities struggle to rein in violent gangs demanding the prime minister resign. - Clarens Siffroy/AFP/Getty Images

But the UN said Friday the police had been “able to push back coordinated gang attacks on key infrastructures, including the airport.”

“We remain deeply concerned by the rapidly deteriorating security situation amid ongoing gang violence and sporadic confrontations between heavily armed gangs and police forces in some parts of Port-au-Prince,” Stephane Dujarric, spokesperson for the UN Secretary-General, said.

The Haitian government has decreed a state of emergency will run until April 3 in the country’s West Region and the capital Port-au-Prince and a curfew will remain in force until March 10.

The chaos in Haiti has forced tens of thousands of people to flee their homes in the past few days, adding to the more than 300,000 already displaced by gang violence.

The head of Doctors without Borders in Haiti said she is concerned about the civilian displacement, pointing to the lack of necessities.

Police officers patrol in Port-au-Prince on March 9 as Haiti remains in a state of emergency. - Ralph Tedy Erol/Reuters
Police officers patrol in Port-au-Prince on March 9 as Haiti remains in a state of emergency. - Ralph Tedy Erol/Reuters

“There is no toilet available, no shower available, no water available…they cannot stay for long,” Sophie Mealier told CNN on Friday.

Hospitals have been targeted by gangs. Only one public hospital is still operating in Port-au-Prince’s metropolitan area, according to an official from the country’s Civil Protection.

Pierre Espérance, Executive Director of NGO the Haitian Human Rights Defense Network, called Haiti’s situation “chaotic” with “no end in sight” and said the country had “completely collapsed.”

Canada said a protest lasting 90 minutes broke out in front of its embassy on Thursday, with a burning tire being thrown over the outside gate, while the US has said it’s looking into “contingency options” at its embassy.

CARICOM (the Caribbean Community and Common Market), a regional bloc of 25 countries which works on economic integration, security and social development, is to hold a meeting on Haiti in the Jamaican capital of Kingston on Monday, according to the UN.

Haiti is a member state, but it is unclear if Haitian Prime Minister Ariel Henry will be at the meeting.

CNN has reached out to the Haitian prime minister’s office for comment.

Jim Rogers, Rafy Rivera, Michael Conte and Abel Alvarado contributed to the reporting.

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