Protesters in Haiti, who demanded the departure of President Michel Martelly and decried U.S. political interference, were stopped short of their goal of reaching the U.S. Embassy Friday to air their grievances.
Angry, some started throwing rocks at Haitian National Police and United Nations troops. Police fired warning shorts and tear gas, quelling the protest on the 26th anniversary of a bloody election-day massacre in which dozens of voters were hacked and shot to death at a Port-au-Prince high school by soldiers and gunmen.
The Nov. 29, 1987 violence halted Haiti’s first free and fair general elections following the 1986 departure of dictator Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier.
While about 600 demonstrators opted to mark the day laying flowers at a school site, several thousand others marched toward the embassy. Police, who had secured the embassy’s premises since Thursday with metal barricades, stopped the demonstrators and launched tear gas when they tried to reach the diplomatic post another way.
Government opponents were divided about the demonstrations with some supporters of former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, including his spokeswoman Maryse Narcisse, refusing to protest at the embassy.
Deputy Levaillant Louis-Jeune, former president of Haiti’s lower chamber, said organizers chose the embassy “to let America know what’s going on in Haiti with the government that’s not keeping its promises of change. Pamela White is still supporting Michel Martelly despite his violations of the constitution.”
White is the U.S. ambassador to Haiti. Some protesters wore T-shirts showing her and Haitian Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe hugging.
Friday’s protest was the second anti-government protest in as many weeks.
Martelly is facing tough times at home with criticism over delayed elections, corruption allegations and rising prices as well as challenges abroad.
Earlier this week, Dominican Republic President Danilo Medina recalled his ambassador to Haiti after the Caribbean Community denounced a decision by the Dominican constitutional court effectively stripping up to 300,000 Haitian descendants of Dominican citizenship.
In recent days, hundreds of Haitians living in the Dominican Republic have either been repatriated by Dominican authorities or voluntarily left after tensions and violence broke out in a border town where an elderly Dominican couple was slain in a robbery.
Also this week, the Bahamas called for diplomatic talks with Martelly over an uptick in Haitian migrant smuggling.
On Thursday, the international community welcomed an important vote in which Haiti’s lower chamber joined the Senate in adopting an electoral law, guaranteeing that a second tier of the Senate would not be dismissed the second Monday in January.
“This vote marks an important step for the organization of inclusive, transparent and democratic elections,” the U.N. said.