Violent protests flare up in Haiti over fuel price hikes, rampant crime

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Haitians protest over rising fuel prices and crime, in Port-au-Prince

By Harold Isaac

PORT-AU-PRINCE (Reuters) – Residents of Haiti’s capital Port-au-Prince sheltered at home on Tuesday as gun fire rung out, road blocks and burning tires were placed along city streets and protesters threw stones in an angry response to expected new fuel price hikes and crime.

The latest demonstrations come as inflation surged to its highest in a decade, chronic gang violence has left much of Haiti’s territory beyond government reach, and outbreaks of bloody turf battles between rival gangs have left hundreds dead and thousands displaced.

The start of the school year has been postponed a month until October as parents struggle to make ends meet, and daily life for countless Haitians is punctuated by a seemingly endless search for fuel. Meanwhile, transit costs have soared, as have the prices for many food staples.

Haitians are now bracing for fuel price hikes, after a Sunday speech by Prime Minister Ariel Henry, amid a growing scarcity of gasoline and diesel that could force some businesses to shutter.

“Do we find it normal that the state tries to set up social programs yet is only able to mobilize 3 billion gourdes ($26.1 million) while we’re spending more than 50 billion gourdes ($434.8 million) to subsidize fuel for those who can pay it at normal rates,” Henry said.

“We will have to adjust fuel prices,” he warned.

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Videos circulating on social media on Tuesday underscore the dire situation. One shows a man attempting to ride a motorbike down a blockaded street as another man pelts him with rocks until he topples over. The man gets up off the ground limping and then faces his attacker, when the video cuts off.

Another video shows dozens of Haitians scattering in the street after the sound of gun blasts, then switches to scenes of people being attended to after suffering apparent gunshot wounds.

Both Henry and Haiti’s national police chief Frantz Elbe have urged international partners to give support to the police in order to control the violence.

“There are numerous reports of road blocks, burning tires, and rock throwing in multiple locations throughout the Metropolitan Port-au-Prince area. Please avoid all unnecessary travel and remain vigilant as the security situation is unpredictable,” the U.S. Embassy in Haiti said in a security alert.

Haiti’s fuel stocks have run low as fuel importers struggle to get paid for subsidies that keep fuel prices low on the island nation, and due to difficulties in obtaining dollars from the central bank, sources have told Reuters.

($1 = 115.0000 gourdes)

(Reporting by Harold Isaac in Port-au-Prince; Additional reporting by Sarah Morland in Mexico City; Writing by Anthony Esposito; Editing by Bill Berkrot)