Haiti orders curfew after weekend violence and prison breaks

Thousands of inmates are thought to have escaped after gangs overran Haiti's two largest prisons.

Haiti has been struggling with a wave of violence that has seen a number of state institutions attacked, as ITV News Reporter Graham Stothard explains

A nighttime curfew has been ordered in Haiti as authorities try to regain control following a weekend of violence in which thousands of inmates broke out of the country’s two largest prisons.

A 72-hour state of emergency was declared on Sunday night by the Haitian government, after gangs overran two prisons in the capital, Port-au-Prince.

Haiti’s finance minister said the country’s police force had been told to use all “legal means at their disposal to enforce the curfew and apprehend all offenders”.

Nearly all of the 4,000 inmates at Haiti’s National Penitentiary are thought to have escaped, while a second prison containing around 1,400 inmates was also overran by gang members.

An inmate stands in the National Penitentiary in Port-au-Prince. / Credit: AP

Among the few prisoners that chose to stay behind at the National Penitentiary are 18 former Colombian soldiers, who are accused of working as mercenaries in the July 2021 assassination of then-Haitian President Jovenel Moïse.

Several of the soldiers shared a video pleading for their lives, with one of them saying: “Please, please help us. They are massacring people indiscriminately inside the cells.”

Colombia’s foreign ministry has called on Haiti to provide “special protection” for the men.

The prison breaks happened during a deadly weekend of violence on the Caribbean island, where at least nine people have been killed since last Thursday.

Gangs attacked a number of state institutions in the capital Port-au-Prince, including Haiti’s international airport and the national football stadium.

A demonstrator holds up an Haitian flag during protests in Port-au-Prince. / Credit: AP

Jimmy Chérizier, a former elite police officer also known as Barbecue, who now runs a gang federation, has claimed responsibility for the surge in attacks.

He said the goal is to capture Haiti’s police chief and government ministers, and prevent Haitian Prime Minister Ariel Henry returning from an overseas trip to Kenya.

Mr Henry travelled to the African nation last week to try to salvage support for bringing in a United Nations (UN) backed security force to help stabilise Haiti in its conflict with gangs.

US President Joe Biden’s administration said it was monitoring the rapidly deteriorating security situation with grave concern.

Haiti’s National Police has roughly 9,000 officers to provide security for more than 11 million people, according to the UN.

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