Haiti’s government scrambles to impose tight security measures as council inauguration imminent

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Police stop at a car to inspect in Port-au-Prince, Haiti on April 22. Haiti’s health system has long been fragile, but it’s now nearing total collapse after gangs launched coordinated attacks on Feb 29, targeting critical state infrastructure in the capital and beyond. (AP)

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti, April 24, (AP): Armored vehicles roll slowly past Haiti’s National Palace as police scan the horizon for gangs. Every day, bullets whiz past the area, striking buildings and people alike.
Gangs control most of the territory that surrounds the palace, but a transitional council charged with selecting a new prime minister and Cabinet for Haiti is demanding that its members be sworn in at the palace.
The ceremony is scheduled for Wednesday even as officials scramble to impose tight security measures, according to two high-ranking regional officials with knowledge of the matter who asked that their names be withheld because they were not authorized to speak to the media.
The push to hold the ceremony at the palace is considered by some a show of force to suggest the Haitian government is still in charge despite marauding gangs who have previously attacked the palace and have promised to derail the ceremony as a daily barrage of gunfire persists in downtown Port-au-Prince.
“No one out here is safe,” said Josil Djaimeska, 33, as he waved his hand in reference to the sprawling public park known as Champ de Mars where he sat Tuesday morning near the palace.
Just steps from where he sat, a stray bullet struck Djaimeska late last week. The bullet is still in his calf, and he’s hoping a doctor will operate on him soon.
Shortly after he spoke, a pop-pop-pop of gunfire erupted briefly nearby.
More than 2,500 people were killed or wounded across Haiti from January to March, a more than 50% increase compared with the same period last year, according to a recent UN report. Much of the violence is concentrated in Port-au-Prince.
In a speech Monday at the U.N. Security Council, María Isabel Salvador, the UN special envoy for Haiti, said the council’s priorities should include a plan for near-term security.
“Gang leaders and other spoilers have stated their intention to violently disrupt the current political process,” she said. “I cannot stress enough the need to assist Haiti with its efforts to reestablish security.”
While gangs have long operated in Haiti, they now control 80% of Port-au-Prince, and the coordinated attacks launched starting Feb 29 have paralyzed the capital and beyond. They have burned police stations and hospitals, opened fire on the main international airport that remains closed since early March and stormed Haiti’s two biggest prisons, releasing more than 4,000 inmates.

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