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Armed gangs frees 4,000 inmates in Haiti

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Armed gangs in Haiti’s capital released roughly 4,000 inmates from the country’s largest prison after a days-long gun battle with police on Sunday.

The vast majority of the 4,000 men held in the Port-au-Prince jail successfully escaped, according to reports from local media. Many of the inmates were gang members charged in connection with the 2021 assassination of Hatian President Jovenel Moise.

Armed gangs launched their attack against the prison earlier this weekend when Prime Minister Ariel Henry left the country on a visit to Kenya, seeking assistance in the fight against domestic gangs.

Gang leader Jimmy Cherizier, a former police officer, called on various armed groups to overthrow Henry’s regime. Gangs attacked both the National Penitentiary and the country’s main container port.

“All of us, the armed groups in the provincial towns and the armed groups in the capital, are united,” Cherizier said.

Henry had vowed to step down from his position by the end of February, but he argued the gang violence needed to be overcome before free and fair elections could be held.

The jailbreak marked a new low in Haiti’s downward spiral of violence and came as gangs assert greater control in the capital, Port-au-Prince.

Haiti’s National Police has roughly 9,000 officers to provide security for more than 11 million people, according to the U.N. They are routinely overwhelmed and outgunned by gangs, which are estimated to control up to 80% of Port-au-Prince.

Jimmy Chérizier, a former elite police officer known as Barbecue who now runs a gang federation, has claimed responsibility for the surge in attacks. He said the goal was to capture Haiti’s police chief and government ministers and prevent Henry’s return.

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