Thousands of protesters march in Haiti against gang violence

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Tensions escalated in the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince on Monday, as thousands of protesters took to the streets to speak out against the country’s devastating gang violence, which resulted last week in the death of a police officer.

Government vehicles were set on fire, as protesters – many masked – squared off against police, demanding protection and aid. Authorities later used tear gas to disperse them, eyewitnesses said.

One young protestor, James, said he was marching against the rise of gangs, which has devastated health care and security, with growing numbers of kidnappings and homicides.

“We can’t live like this anymore. The other neighborhoods are ‘gangsterized’,” he said. “People are abandoning their homes.”

The United Nations refugee agency says some 73 500 people fled Haiti last year in light of growing gang violence and poverty.

The UN also says 5.2 million – nearly half Haiti’s population – need humanitarian assistance, and has urged the need for international assistance in Haiti to restore stability.

“There are thieves. We can’t sleep. We can’t eat. We can’t even live. We didn’t create the gangs,” one person at the march said.

Protesters told Reuters they wanted an “intervention” in the Port-au-Prince area of Carrefour-Feuilles, decrying the lack of health services and deaths at the hands of gangs.

“We are asking for tanks,” said one person.