Protests entered a fourth day in Haiti on Monday as the government’s decision to back down on raising fuel prices failed to ease tensions.
Various sectors also called for Prime Minister Jack Guy Lafontant’s resignation over the crisis.
Protestors marched on parliament before being turned back by police while others set fire to a tax office in the Tabarre neighborhood of the capital Port-au-Prince, the Associated Press reported.
Most of the country was shut down, local media reported, after various opposition factions called for a massive two-day strike that appears to have been largely followed throughout the country. Public transport in the capital has ground to a halt and main access roads and many shops are closed.
Several embassies remain shut, including the U.S. and the German embassies as well as the French embassy’s visa service.
“The instability remains and concerns both Port-au-Prince and the province, where all national roads are blocked,” said the French embassy, urging its citizens, like other embassies, to put any trips on hold and stay put.
The Canadian embassy said Monday afternoon that it would also remain closed Tuesday.
Many airlines cancelled their flights to and from Port-au-Prince airport on Saturday and Sunday. As some flights resumed Monday, videos posted on Twitter attested to the huge crowds waiting there.
On the Dominican side of the border, Defense Minister Lieutenant-General Rubén Darío Paulino Sem announced Sunday at a news conference that the border watch had been reinforced, especially in the cross-border localities of Jimaní and Elías Piña, both close to Port-au-Prince.
“Armed forces are always on alert in case someone tries to cross the border,” he said, adding that the usual Monday binational markets that take place in four cross-border cities were maintained with reinforced military personnel.
Troubles started after the government on Friday announced an increase of 38-51 percent in gasoline, diesel fuel and kerosene prices starting Sunday in the context of new landmark rules orchestrated by the International Monetary Fund and Haiti to boost the government’s revenue. Numerous protests erupted with burning tire barricades set up on the main roads and at least three people were killed and many more injured in the riots, local media reported. The riots led to lootings and the burning of shops and private homes.
On Saturday, Lafontant backed down and suspended the price hikes until further notice, and President Jovenel Moise made a televised address to the nation where he asked the people to “stay calm and go home”, arguing that the authorities around him had “miscommunicated”.
Following the president’s address and the lack of impact on the situation, calls emerged for Lafontant to step down.
The Private Sector Economic Forum released a note Monday requesting that Lafontant and his government resign.
“The current situation is a result of the lack of leadership from the highest authorities of the Haitian state including the president, prime minister and his government, who failed to plan any necessary security measures to support the drastic price adjustment announcement,” it said.
Haitian Protestant Federation leader Sylvain Exantus also called for change.
“Besides the leadership problem, there is a lack of confidence of the people in the government,” he said in a press release.
A third of Haiti’s population considers itself Protestant.
Congressman Jerry Tardieu of Pétion-Ville district south of Port-au-Prince also called for the president to resign.
“This episode adds a negative touch to an already controversial action,” he said Saturday in a press release.
On Monday, Lafontant said he had called a special meeting with his government to “assess the situation and take the appropriate decisions” in light of the “tense atmosphere in Haiti”.
Senate President Joseph Lambert, who had earlier indicated his disagreement with the government’s decision to raise fuel prices, also announced that he had called a meeting between the executive, legislative and judicial powers Monday afternoon “to find a way out of this crisis”.
By Alix Hardy in Mexico