PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — Haitian Prime Minister Ariel Henry urged calm in a public address early Thursday following three days of violent protests that have paralyzed the country demanding his resignation.
The brief speech did little to appease thousands of people angry and frustrated over unrelenting gang violence, deepening poverty and no general elections in sight.
“I think the time has arrived for all to put our heads together to save Haiti, to do things another way in our country,” Henry said without offering specifics.
He urged Haitians not to look at the government or at Haiti’s National Police as their adversaries. Those who choose violence, destruction and killing people to take power are “not working in the interests of the Haitian people,” he said.
His comments come as thousands of Haitians gathered daily this week in cities and towns across the country to demand that Henry step down, saying they will keep protesting until he leaves.
Haiti’s legislature is currently empty, after the terms of its last 10 senators expired in January 2023. The country failed to hold planned elections in 2019 and 2023, and Henry assumed power with the support of the international community following the July 2021 assassination of President Jovenel Moïse.
On Wednesday, police killed five armed environmental protection agents in the capital of Port-au-Prince in a shooting some worry could worsen Haiti’s crisis.
Lionel Lazarre, head of a police union known as Synapoha, told The Associated Press that the shooting between police and agents with Haiti’s Security Brigade for Protected Areas occurred in the Laboule community. He claimed that the environmental agents opened fire after police asked them to drop their weapons, prompting officers to shoot.
The environmental division has recently come under scrutiny after its agents in northern Haiti clashed with police.
Henry said Haitians need peace, security, work and the ability to move freely around the country.
“Haitian people need for their children to go to school without fear, because that’s what’s going to guarantee them a future,” he said.
Henry once again pledged to hold general elections as soon as Haiti’s insecurity issues are resolved, saying he would continue to reach out and work with all those who want the country to move forward, “to take decisions together that are going to help us emerge from the crisis.”
He also congratulated police for their efforts in fighting gangs and promised he would keep pushing for the U.N.-backed deployment of a Kenyan police force that is currently blocked by a court order.
“I want to reassure everyone the government will do whatever it can for the mission to come as fast as possible,” he said.
Henry also extended his sympathies to all those who have died in the violent protests this week.
“I give you assurance that the Haitian people will have peace and development with prosperity,” Henry said, without providing details. “Together, hand-in-hand, we will change our destiny.”
Haitians said they wanted Henry to step down by Feb. 7, the date Haitian leaders are typically sworn into office. The date also carries deep historical significance in Haiti: On that date in 1986, former dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier fled for France, and in 1991, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, Haiti’s first democratically-elected president, was sworn in.
Coto reported from San Juan, Puerto Rico.