Thousands of protesters in Haiti loot stores, battle police

AP International News

A man walks past a burning barricade during anti-government protests in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Friday, Oct. 11, 2019. Protesters burned tires and spilled oil on streets in parts of Haiti’s capital as they renewed their call for the resignation of President Jovenel Moïse just hours after a journalist was shot to death. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) — Thousands of protesters clashed with police as they looted stores and tried to break through a barricade leading toward the residence of Haitian President Jovenel Moïse Friday in one of the biggest demonstrations in weeks to demand his resignation. The violence came a day after a journalist covering the demonstrations was fatally shot in his car.

A group of motorcycle drivers gunned their engines in front of the police barricade blocking the sole street leading to the upscale Port-au-Prince neighborhood, with one person holding up a dead dog that had been dragged through the streets by a rope. A small group yelled: “Here’s Jovenel!”

Police fired tear gas and bullets into the air. Protesters burned tires and spilled oil on streets in parts of Haiti’s capital, warning the demonstrations could get even more violent as anger over corruption, rising inflation and a lack of basic goods continued to roil the Western Hemisphere’s poorest country.

“We’re going to break and destroy everything” if Moïse doesn’t resign, said Reynald Brutus, a 28-year-old unemployed protester.

Friday’s protest came after reporter Néhémie Joseph of Radio Méga, who had been covering the protests, was found dead in his car late Thursday in the town of Mirebalais, northeast of Port-au-Prince, according to Radio Vision 2000.

In a Facebook post in late September, Joseph said that a couple of politicians had threatened him after one of his shows and accused him of inciting protests. It was unclear, however, if this was the motive for his killing.

“The press should not have to claim victims and bodies as their own,” the Association of Professional Journalists of Artibonite said, calling on justice officials to investigate the killing.

Joseph is the third Haitian journalist killed in less than two years. Radio Sans Fin reporter Pétion Rospide was fatally shot in June as he drove home, while freelance journalist Vladjimir Legagneur disappeared in March 2018 while working on a story.

The most recent killing comes amid a spike in violence in Haiti’s capital and surrounding communities as protests that have caused nearly 20 deaths and almost 200 injuries paralyze the country for nearly a month. Businesses remain shuttered and an estimated 2 million children have not been able to go to school, according to the United Nations.

“It’s a very, very serious situation,” said Michèle Pierre-Louis, a former prime minister with the non-governmental organization FOKAL. “No one is really talking about the suffering of the people. The consequences are terrible.”

On Friday, some normally clogged streets of Port-au-Prince were largely empty as people stayed indoors out of fear.

A crowd gathered in Pétionville yelled and pushed on the occasional car that tried to drive through.

Among those watching was 33-year-old Naomi Pierre, who works at the police academy.

“I like what’s going on,” she said. “It’s for the best of the country.”

Pierre has two children who haven’t been able to go to school for a month, and she lamented the lack of food, medical care, electricity and security.

“Everyone’s walking up and down with their heart beating scared,” she said.

Earlier this week, Moïse announced the creation of a commission charged with finding a solution to end the worsening crisis, but opposition leaders have rejected his call for dialogue and unity.

Many are calling for a more in-depth investigation following a report by Haiti’s Senate that accuses former top government officials from the administration of former president Michel Martelly of misusing at least $2 billion in funds tied to a Venezuelan subsidized oil program that were meant for social programs.

The report also names a company that Moïse once owned. Moïse, who was Martelly’s hand-picked successor, has denied the allegations.

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