Blinken pressed Haitian PM to accelerate government transition, US official says

By Matt Spetalnick and Daphne Psaledakis

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke by phone on Thursday to Haitian Prime Minister Ariel Henry and told him there was an urgent need to accelerate the transition to a more inclusive government, a senior State Department official said.

Brian Nichols, U.S. assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere Affairs, told a think-tank conference in Washington the conversation with Henry was intensive, as Haiti faced a continuing wave of gang violence that has threatened to bring down the government.

Blinken also spoke with Guyana's president, Irfaan Ali, chair of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) regional bloc, Nichols said.

"Secretary Blinken spoke with President Ali and with Prime Minister Henry about the urgent need to accelerate transition to a broader, more inclusive government today and those were intensive conversations," Nichols said.

Nichols did not provide details on Henry's whereabouts. The prime minister has been in Puerto Rico since Tuesday, apparently unable or unwilling to return to the capital, where gunfire has broken out around key transport hubs, including the international airport.

Haiti's government on Thursday said it would extend a state of emergency around Port-au-Prince for another month following the wave of gang violence that has led thousands to flee their homes.

Authorities first announced a state of emergency on Sunday after fighting escalated, inmates were broken out of prison by armed gangs, and an estimated tens of thousands were displaced while Henry was in Kenya.

"Helping Haiti restore security and democracy, especially at this critical moment, represents a top priority for the administration," Nichols said.

The United Nations estimates hundreds of thousands have been displaced and thousands killed in the overall conflict, with widespread reports of rape, torture and ransom kidnappings.

(Reporting By Matt Spetalnick and Daphne Psaledakis in Washington; Editing by Chris Reese and Matthew Lewis)