PORT-AU-PRINCE (Reuters) – Anti-government street protesters shut down Haiti’s capital yesterday as the country plunged deeper into political and economic crises even as many prepared for the annual Carnival, normally a time of peaceful revellry.
The usually congested streets of the capital were largely deserted after opposition parties and a minibus drivers’ union called a two-day general strike to protest high fuel prices.
Protest organizers warned residents to stay off the streets, saying those who ventured out would risk their lives.
Only minor incidents were reported. Police said they arrested 20 people and used tear gas to disperse a small group of university students.
In downtown Port-au-Prince young men played soccer on some streets, while barricades were erected in several suburbs to try to block motorcycle taxi drivers who did not observe the strike action.
One policeman was wounded by a stabbing in the Cité Soleil slum while trying to remove burning tyres placed by strikers.
Prime Minister Evans Paul called on state workers to show up for work but few did and most government offices in the capital were closed.
The impoverished Caribbean nation is in the midst of a political crisis after the previous prime minister was forced to resign in December and parliament was dissolved over the failure to hold municipal and legislative elections.
For three months, President Michel Martelly has faced radical government opponents calling for his removal, with students joining the protests last week.
Haiti’s government badly needs to raise cash from the sale of gasoline to pay off its mounting fuel debt with Venezuela’s preferential PetroCaribe programme, which has ballooned to about $1.5 billion.