Haitian Prime Minister Ariel Henry has called for calm in a public address as violent protests have erupted across the country demanding he step down.
Henry’s brief speech did little to appease the thousands of Haitians angry and frustrated over growing gang violence and deepening poverty with no general election in sight.
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“I think the time has arrived for all to put our heads together to save Haiti, to do things another way in our country,” Henry said on Thursday without elaborating.
He encouraged Haitians not to view the government or national police as their enemies. Those who choose violence, destruction and killing people to take power are “not working in the interests of the Haitian people”, he added.
The legislature is empty after the terms of its last 10 senators expired in January 2023. The country failed to hold planned elections in 2019 and 2023, and Henry assumed power with the support of the international community after the July 2021 assassination of President Jovenel Moise.
According to an agreement in December 2022, Henry was supposed to hold elections and pass power to newly elected officials on February 7 this year.
A day after that deadline, Henry pledged to hold general elections as soon as the country’s security issues are resolved and congratulated police for their efforts on fighting gangs, promising he would keep pushing for the United Nations-backed deployment of a Kenyan police force.
“I want to reassure everyone the government will do whatever it can for the mission to come as fast as possible,” he said.
Thousands of people have held daily protests this week calling for Henry to leave and warned they would continue to take to the streets until he steps down.
February 7 is an important day in Haitian history. On that date in 1986, former dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier fled to France, and in 1991, Jean-Betrand Aristide, Haiti’s first democratically elected president, was sworn in.
Henry has held onto power, and an aide said the prime minister intends to form a national unity government.
On Wednesday, five agents from an environment agency, an armed government bureau now in open rebellion, were killed in a shootout with national police in the capital, Port-au-Prince.
Lionel Lazarre, the head of the Synapoha police union, told The Associated Press news agency that the environmental agents had opened fire after police asked them to drop their weapons, prompting officers to shoot.
Last week, Henry called on the agency to register with the Ministry of the Environment in an apparent crackdown against the body.
In recent weeks, former coup leader Guy Philippe, who was repatriated to Haiti late last year after serving about six years in a United States prison, has also been rallying supporters for a “revolution” against Henry’s government.