Haitian police unions plead for help after attack on main prison



PORT-AU-PRINCE— Armed groups were closing in on Haiti’s largest prison on Saturday night, defying police forces who called for help after days of gunfire in parts of the capital as a major gang leader seeks to topple Prime Minister Ariel Henry.

Two of the Caribbean country’s main police unions called for assistance to stop inmates, many considered to be high-profile criminals, from fleeing the National Penitentiary in Port-Au-Prince.

It was unclear how many had fled the prison, a number that newspaper Gazette Haiti said was “significant.” Some detainees were reluctant to leave en masse for fear of being killed in crossfire, sources told Reuters.

Police officers assigned to the prison had vacated the premises on Saturday, according to reports by local media AyiboPost.

The government of Haiti, the poorest country in the Americas, did not comment on the situation on Saturday.

Heavy gunfire has caused panic in recent days after calls by gang leader Jimmy Cherizier, a former police officer, for criminal groups to unite and overthrow Henry. Cherizier, also known as Barbecue, heads an alliance of gangs and faces sanctions from the U.N. and the U.S.

The penitentiary, built to hold 700 prisoners, held 3,687 as of February last year, according to rights group RNDDH. A 2017 report by the group warned of serious overcrowding at the prison, which is said to suffer from poor police staffing.

The prison attack follows reports on Friday that armed men had attempted to take control of the capital’s main container port, causing traffic disruptions, and gangs threatened to attack more of the city’s police stations.

Cherizier this week warned locals to keep children from going to school to “avoid collateral damages” as violence surged.

Prime Minister Henry, who came to power after the assassination of the country’s last president, Jovenel Moise, in 2021, had previously pledged to step down by early February. He later said security must first be re-established in order to ensure free and fair elections.



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