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Supporters of former Haitian rebel leader Guy Philippe launch widespread protests

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) — Supporters of former rebel leader Guy Philippe have launched protests that have paralyzed some cities across Haiti as they demand the resignation of Prime Minister Ariel Henry.

Demonstrators forced the closures of schools, government agencies and private businesses on Monday in places including the southern cities of Jeremie and Miragoane, as well as the northern city of Ouanaminthe, which borders the Dominican Republic, according to local media reports. Hundreds of protesters also were reported Tuesday in the southern city of Les Cayes, with additional demonstrations expected in coming days.

Philippe, who was repatriated to Haiti last month after serving years in prison in the U.S., said in a message to supporters that he is not plotting a coup but rather looking to transform Haiti, where poverty has deepened and gang violence has increased.

“My revolution is for the people, for the people only,” he said, adding that he does not oppose Haiti’s National Police. “I’m asking police to do their job, to protect the people.”

Philippe served nine years in a U.S. prison following a guilty plea to a money laundering charge. He is best known for leading a 2004 rebellion against former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide and masterminding attacks on police stations.

Philippe returned to a Haiti that is crumbling under the power of dozens of gangs blamed for killing nearly 4,000 people and kidnapping another 3,000 last year, overwhelming police, according to the U.N.

In his speech to supporters, Philippe promised that “the suffering is going to be over pretty soon.”