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Haiti's top gang leader warns of "civil war that will lead to genocide" unless prime minister steps down

Haitian gang leader threatens civil war
Haitian gang leader threatens civil war if prime minister doesn't resign 03:56

The U.N. Security Council will hold an emergency meeting Wednesday on violence-wracked Haiti, hours after a powerful Haitian gang leader warned that the chaos engulfing the capital Port-au-Prince will lead to civil war and "genocide" unless Prime Minister Ariel Henry steps down.

The stark comments from Jimmy Cherizier, known as "Barbecue," came as Henry appeared to be struggling to fly home, with the main airport under attack and neighboring Dominican Republic refusing permission for him to land.

Henry — who was supposed to step down last month — was out of the country last week when armed criminal gangs, who control large swathes of the country, launched a coordinated assault to oust him.

"If Ariel Henry doesn't resign, if the international community continues to support him, we'll be heading straight for a civil war that will lead to genocide," Cherizier, a former police officer who is under U.N. sanctions for human rights abuses, told reporters in the capital.

"Either Haiti becomes a paradise or a hell for all of us. It's out of the question for a small group of rich people living in big hotels to decide the fate of people living in working-class neighborhoods," the 46-year-old added.

FILE PHOTO: Former police officer Jimmy "Barbecue" Cherizier holds press conference in Port-au-Prince
Former police officer Jimmy "Barbecue" Cherizier, leader of the 'G9' gang alliance, is flanked by gang members after a press conference in Delmas 6, Port-au-Prince, Haiti March 5, 2024. Ralph Tedy Erol / REUTERS

As the latest crisis in the violence-wracked Caribbean nation spiraled, gunfire shut down some flights at Toussaint Louverture International Airport in Haiti's capital.

Henry was denied entry into the neighboring Dominican Republic, according to Dominican news group CDN.

On Tuesday evening a spokesperson for the governor's office in nearby Puerto Rico confirmed his plane had landed there, at least briefly. "I don't know if he's still in Puerto Rico," Sheila Anglero told AFP by telephone.

In power since the 2021 assassination of president Jovenel Moise, Henry was due to step down in February but instead agreed to a power-sharing deal with the opposition until new elections are held.

Meanwhile, Doctors Without Borders (MSF) announced Wednesday it was boosting its presence in the Haitian capital following a surge in casualties linked to the worsening violence engulfing Port-au-Prince.

MSF said the number of casualties requiring treatment by the medical charity's teams had risen sharply.

"The 50 beds in our hospital in Tabarre have all been occupied since the beginning of February, but on February 28 the situation worsened and we had to increase the bed capacity to 75," said MSF head of mission Mumuza Muhindo Musubaho. "We are receiving an average of five to 10 new cases a day, and we are working at the limits of our capacity."

"Plane had a bullet hole"

Earlier Tuesday, a police academy in the capital where more than 800 cadets are training came under attack by an armed gang.

The attack was repelled after the arrival of reinforcements, said Lionel Lazarre of the Haitian police union.

The unrest has left 250 Cubans stranded in Port-au-Prince after their flights were canceled, according to the Havana office of Sunrise Airways.

"When we were about to board the plane, they realized that the plane had a bullet hole," a 34-year-old Cuban passenger told AFP via WhatsApp, on condition of anonymity.

Cherizier, who leads a group of gangs known as the "G9 Family and Allies," cites as a chief inspiration Francois "Papa Doc" Duvalier, who ruled Haiti with ruthless brutality in the 1960s and 70s.

He said gunmen had committed harmful acts, but "I believe that society must forgive them and unite to rethink a new Haiti."

"Police don't matter"

Haitian officials have been pleading for months for international assistance to help their overwhelmed security forces, as gangs push beyond the city and into rural areas.

Henry had traveled to Kenya to push for the deployment of a UN-backed multinational police mission to help stabilize his country when the attempt to oust him began.

With him away, the gangs raided two Port-au-Prince prisons, in attacks that resulted in a dozen deaths and the escape of thousands of inmates.

"They're showing us that the police don't matter," Bertony Junior Exantus, a resident of Delmas in Port-au-Prince who fled the violence, told reporters.

At least 15,000 people have recently evacuated the worst-hit parts of the capital, said Stephane Dujarric, spokesman for U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.

"Armed gangs forced us to leave our homes. They destroyed our houses, and we're on the streets," a man named Nicolas told the Reuters news agency.

Due to limited movement, U.N. teams on the ground have been unable to report a death toll, Dujarric told reporters in New York.

The government has declared a state of emergency and nighttime curfew, while the U.N. Security Council was scheduled to hold an emergency meeting Wednesday.

Concerned about the "rapidly deteriorating security situation," U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres had called this week for "urgent action, particularly in providing financial support for the multinational security support mission."

Maria Isabel Salvador, the U.N. representative in Haiti, will brief the Security Council remotely during its closed-door meeting Wednesday afternoon.

"Here until my last breath"

After being brought to a virtual standstill, Port-au-Prince appeared quieter Tuesday, although some streets remained barricaded by residents.

Some transport resumed and shops reopened, with long queues outside of stores, banks and at petrol stations.

The U.S. State Department has issued multiple travel warnings urging Americans and State Department employees to stay put and be careful while on the island.

At Miami and Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airports, all flights in and out of Haiti's two airports are canceled, CBS Miami reported.  Despite many warnings, many Haitian Americans are still on the island. 

Kareen Ulysse, founder of the orphanage CHF Foundation, spoke to CBS News Miami about what's happening around her, on the ground in Haiti, as she and her staff keep themselves and the children under their care safe. 

"I'm here until my last breath," she said.

Founder of orphanage in Haiti says leaving is not an option 'I'm here until my last breath' 00:06
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