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Haiti Police, Troops Exchange Fire     02/24 06:23

   PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) -- Haitian police officers exchanged gunfire for 
hours Sunday with soldiers of the newly reconstituted army outside the national 
palace, in a dangerous escalation of protests over police pay and working 
conditions. 

   At least three police officers were wounded, fellow officers told The 
Associated Press. The army's high command said in an online statement that a 
soldier had been wounded by a bullet in the back. 

   Haiti's raucous three-day Carnival celebration was to have started Sunday 
afternoon in Port-au-Prince and other major cities but the government announced 
Sunday night that Carnival was cancelled in the capital "to avoid a bloodbath." 
Police protesters and their backers had burned dozens of Carnival floats and 
stands at recent protests, saying they did not believe the country should be 
celebrating during a crisis. 

   Shortly after noon Sunday, AP journalists saw dozens of men who said they 
were off-duty officers march with hundreds of supporters toward the palace in 
the latest in days of demonstrations demanding better pay for Haitian 
law-enforcement officers. 

   The protest stopped outside the army headquarters, which faces the palace.

   AP journalists then saw soldiers at the headquarters building fire into the 
air. Shortly afterward, an exchange of fire erupted between the soldiers and 
police. It was not clear which side began firing at the other first. 

   As the afternoon wore on, uniformed officers joined their colleagues in the 
street outside the palace, firing at the military base with semi-automatic 
pistols and rifles. Many wore masks along with their uniforms to hide their 
identities. 

   Other armed men spotted a drone that appeared to be taking images of the 
violence and followed it to the offices of Radio Caraibes, then began shooting 
at the broadcaster's building. There were no immediate reports of casualties in 
the attack. 

   Police protests began this month after a half-dozen officers were fired over 
their attempt to unionize. The demonstrations are not directly linked to 
anti-corruption protests that roiled Haiti for most of last year, but they draw 
on the same widespread dissatisfaction with Haiti's shrinking economy and 
President Jovenel Moise's inability to improve the quality of life. 

   A uniformed police officer in a black-and-white clown mask told reporters 
outside the palace that officers were demanding the reinstatement of their 
fired colleagues as well as a pay raise for all officers. 

   "Until this is done we will not sit and talk," said the officer, who 
declined to provide his name. "The president has proven that he does not care 
about our demands." 

   Moise said at a news conference Saturday that he recognized the legitimacy 
of many police complaints and would increase some collateral benefits for 
officers, but police said Sunday that the concessions were not enough. 

   The Haitian army had been disbanded in 1995 after the fall of a dictatorship 
that used soldiers to repress domestic opponents. Moise reformed the army in 
2017, promising that the military would patrol Haiti's borders, assist in 
natural disasters and avoid domestic affairs. 

   At least three men were taken to a hospital near the shooting with wounds to 
the legs and feet that did not appear to be life-threatening. Uniformed police 
officers told an AP journalist that the wounded men were fellow officers. The 
uniformed officers spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not 
authorized to speak to the press.

   Intense shooting continued until after 6 p.m., when it devolved into 
sporadic exchanges of fire. 


(KR)

 
 
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