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Over 50,000 fled Haiti capital in three weeks, with politicians in deadlock

PORT-AU-PRINCE (Reuters) - More than 53,000 people fled Haiti's capital in just three weeks of March as conflict between powerful armed gangs wreaked havoc for civilians, with the state largely absent and a path out of the chaos yet to be established by politicians.

Tens of thousands of people left Port-au-Prince's metropolitan area between March 8 and 27, according to United Nations estimates released on Tuesday, with violence again flaring up over the Easter weekend and at the start of April.

The U.N. Human Rights Chief Volker Turk said on Tuesday that a scale of human rights abuse was taking place "unprecedented in modern Haitian history," including killings, kidnappings and sexual violence. The conflict has also blocked off transport of key goods and humanitarian aid into the capital.

According to the U.N., many of the displaced are traveling toward the country's southern peninsula, which is still recovering from a devastating 2021 earthquake. Nearly seven in 10 who left the capital in March had already been displaced by the gang violence, it said.

As nearby countries harden their maritime borders, just 4% said they wanted to emigrate, mostly to the Dominican Republic, which shares the island of Hispaniola with Haiti. But a wary Dominican Republic government has boosted border security, ruled out refugee camps on its territory, and deported tens of thousands back across the border.

Alliances of powerful gangs are seeking to take over parts of the capital they do not yet control and have declared "war" on the de facto government, whose prime minister announced his resignation on March 11 while stranded in the United States.

Prime Minister Ariel Henry was initially expected to be replaced within days of the announcement, with a transitional presidential council formed by representatives of political parties and civil society groups put forward by regional leaders in Jamaica.

But three weeks later, the installation of the council has yet to take place amid factional infighting, threats and resignations.

On Sunday, members of Haiti's military and over 50 civil associations signed a declaration calling for an alternative transition method that is laid out in the constitution. That would see a judge from Haiti's Supreme Court named as provisional president, who would then appoint a prime minister to form a government.

Opponents say the idea is a maneuver by Henry's allies. Most of the court's judges were appointed a year ago by Henry, seen as corrupt by many Haitians.

On Monday, Haiti's de facto government issued a rare statement saying its leaders were working toward a peaceful transition of power to the presidential council "as fast as possible."

(Reporting by Harold Isaac and Sarah Morland, Editing by Rosalba O'Brien)