Haiti police exchange fire with troops near national palace

PORT-AU-PRINCE, HAITI (AP) — Haitian police officers exchanged gunfire for hours on 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 on Sunday afternoon in Port-au-Prince and other major cities but the government announced on 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 on 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.

Police officers take cover behind an armoured vehicle as they exchange fire with soldiers during a protest over police pay and working conditions for the national police, in Port-au-Prince. PHOTO: AP