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Haiti gang leader threatens ‘civil war’ if PM does not resign

Ex-policeman Jimmy "Barbecue" Chérizier has warned the prime minister not to return to Haiti

The leader of one of Haiti’s most powerful gang alliances has issued a stark warning that the country could descend into civil war if the current Prime Minister does not resign. Jimmy “Barbecue” Chérizier, who heads the G9 alliance of gangs, stated that should Ariel Henry refuse to step down, it would likely result in escalating violence that could evolve into genocide.

Chérizier’s threat came as members of his gang sought to seize control of the international airport in Port-au-Prince in an apparent bid to prevent Henry from returning to Haiti from an overseas trip. Unrest has since spread to other population centres, including a prison riot reported in the coastal city of Jacmel. The violence has displaced thousands of Haitians across the nation.

Haiti has long struggled with the criminal and security threat posed by heavily armed gangs. However, the unrest amplified considerably last week while Henry was visiting Kenya. It is believed the Prime Minister had hoped to broker an agreement for the East African nation to lead an international police mission aimed at quelling gang violence in Haiti. Chérizier apparently views Henry’s continued leadership as an obstacle and a potential threat to his and the G9 alliance’s interests.

Henry ascended to the role of Prime Minister in the aftermath of President Jovenel Moïse’s assassination in July 2021. However, critics argue Henry’s interim administration lacks legitimacy due to the absence of elections to restore democratic governance. Presidential polls originally promised by Henry have yet to materialise over two years on from Moïse’s death. With no elected officials, a power vacuum has enabled gangs like the G9 to expand their control and criminal enterprises. Kidnappings have surged as gangs are thought to now hold sway over around 80% of the capital region.

The security situation has severely impacted humanitarian operations and civilian life. The medical aid organisation Doctors Without Borders was forced to temporarily shutter mobile clinics amid rising violence. Unless the conflict can be deescalated, organisations fear depleting medical supplies will undermine their ability to respond to overwhelming needs. While violence has centred on Port-au-Prince so far, isolated unrest has also hit towns such as Jeremie and the prison riot in Jacmel indicates volatility may be spreading. An emergency UN Security Council meeting is scheduled for later today to address Haiti’s crisis. According to the UN, the violence has displaced approximately 15,000 people within the troubled Caribbean nation to date. The road to stability remains long and uncertain.

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