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US pushes Haiti’s prime minister on transition as gang leader warns of ‘genocide’

The US has called for “urgent” movement toward a political transition in Haiti, as gangs run amok in the nation’s capital and opposition groups demand Prime Minister Ariel Henry’s resignation.

Henry landed in the US territory of Puerto Rico on Tuesday after days of speculation about his whereabouts. He had been in Kenya last week to sign an agreement securing a Kenyan-led multinational mission to restore security in the Caribbean nation.

According to the Miami Herald, Henry had planned to return to Haiti via the US and the Dominican Republic, but was diverted to Puerto Rico after the Dominican government changed its mind. US officials called Henry mid-flight in an effort to persuade him to step aside in favor of a transitional administration, the report also said.

The Dominican Republic rejected informal inquiries from both the US and Haiti’s government this week about a possible “indefinite stopover” for Henry’s plane, the Dominican Republic’s presidential spokesman said Wednesday. “On both occasions the Dominican government communicated the impossibility of said stopover without receiving a defined flight plan,” Homero Figueroa said Wednesday.

Asked on Wednesday if the US had asked Henry to resign, US Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield said: “What we’ve asked (Henry) to do is move forward on a political process that will lead to establishment of a presidential transitional council that will lead to elections.”

US State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller said the US “is not calling on (Henry) or pushing for him to resign” but added that “we are urging him to expedite the transition to an empowered and inclusive governance structure” to prepare for the multinational security mission and eventually for elections.

Since Henry’s trip to Kenya, the Haitian capital Port-au-Prince has been gripped by a wave of highly coordinated gang attacks on law enforcement and state institutions. Armed groups have burned down police stations and released thousands of inmates from two prisons, in what one gang leader, Jimmy Cherizier, described as an attempt to overthrow Henry’s government.

Cherizier has taken credit for the attacks and warned of even more dire consequences if the international community “continues to support Henry.”

“If Ariel Henry doesn’t step down, if the international community continues to support Ariel Henry, they will lead us directly into a civil war that will end in genocide,” Cherizier told Reuters in Port-au-Prince on Tuesday.

“The international community, especially the United States, Canada, France, and the Core Group will be responsible for all the people who die in Haiti.”

Political uncertainty

Henry’s predecessor, former Prime Minister Claude Joseph, told CNN Wednesday that political opposition groups are discussing a possible transition of power in Port-au-Prince. That process would likely be structured with the initial appointment of a three-member transitional council, which would select an interim president to lead the country, he said.

Joseph said Henry’s resignation has been “overdue” since February 7 of this year, referring to the prime minister’s promise to hold elections in 2023. They were never held, with Henry’s administration citing the country’s insecurity as a major obstacle.

Amid the latest bout of political uncertainty, the US is making preparations for the potential for mass migration from Haiti, over concerns that many people could flee as the situation worsens, the Department of Homeland Security official said.

The official also said that the US Secret Service assisted in providing Henry with security protection while he was in Puerto Rico, pointing out that it is standard procedure for a foreign leader in the United States.

The UN Security Council is due to hold a meeting on Haiti later on Wednesday. Ahead of the meeting, the UN’s High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk urged the international community to “act swiftly and decisively to prevent Haiti’s further descent into chaos.”

“This situation is beyond untenable for the people of Haiti,” he said. “We are simply running out of time.”

International actors have watched the deteriorating conditions in Haiti with concern. Stéphane Dujarric, spokesperson for the United Nations Secretary-General, said Wednesday that the worsening situation is increasing the need for the deployment of the support mission.

“We need the international community to help the Haitian authorities restore law and order and calm the situation down,” he said.

In October, the UN Security Council authorized the multinational security support mission, which Kenya volunteered to lead. However, it remains unclear how exactly the Kenyan-led mission will operate and the timeline for the deployment.

This is a developing story and will be updated.

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