Haiti gripped by tension as president stays out of sight

Port-au-Prince (AFP) –


A general strike shut down most of Haiti Wednesday as tension and uncertainty gripped the country following deadly protests over the weekend and the president's unexplained absence from public.

Schools, shops and private businesses were closed in the Caribbean country's main cities, heeding the opposition call for a general strike.

As police patrolled otherwise empty main avenues in normally chaotic Port-au-Prince, burning barricades went up in some neighborhoods and sporadic gun shots set residents on edge.

At least three people were killed by gunfire during mass protests over the weekend demanding President Jovenel Moise's resignation, the national police said. The opposition said 11 people were killed.

Moise has said nothing since Sunday's protests.

He was supposed to speak to the nation Tuesday in a televised address but it was dropped several hours after being announced, with no explanation given.

"We had technical failures," Emmanuel Jean-Francois, an advisor to the president, said Wednesday after being reached by telephone.

"We are taking all measures to broadcast it this morning," he added, declining to give a time or say what it would be about.

National police spokesman Gary Desrosiers said the force was braced for the aftermath of the protests.

"We remain on the ground to assure everyone's protection," he told AFP.

In the upscale Petionville neighborhood, the only two gas stations opened were besieged by taxi-moto drivers desperate to refuel.

The breakdown in presidential communications was widely criticized on social media, with many refusing to believe the delay was caused by technical problems, and others criticizing the incompetence of the presidential services.

On Monday, the presidency released only a brief statement with a picture of Moise and Prime Minister Jean-Henry Ceant, surrounded by the chairs of both chambers of parliament and the president of the supreme court of appeals.

The statement said the meeting had three objectives: "that the executive pursue dialogue with all sectors of national life, resolve problems linked to insecurity, and intensify programs of social relief."

Various opposition groups, arguing that the situation is out of control, have proposed ways to remove the president in order to resolve the crisis.