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Deaths reported as protests against Haiti's President Moise turn violent

Chandan Khanna, AFP | Haitian police officers clear the street of burning tyres as protesters march during a demonstration against the ruling government in Port-au-Prince on June 9, 2019.

Protesters denouncing corruption blocked roads and paralysed much of Haiti's capital Sunday as they demanded the removal of President Jovenel Moise. Two people were killed and five injured in clashes, according to police figures.

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Demonstrators burned tires and threw stones during the march in Port-au-Prince, where the scent of burning rubber filled the air. Many stores and gas stations were closed and travel between some cities was impeded as protesters blocked roads with cars, stones and other large objects.

Police erected barricades near the presidential palace and fired tear gas to drive away demonstrators who tried to breach them.

Michael-Ange Jeunes, a police spokesman, said gunshots caused the two deaths and wounded four people. He said a police officer was also injured by a thrown rock.

There was no information on who fired the shots.

Jeunes said protesters set fire to two police cars and two buildings. He said 12 people had been arrested.

Similar protests were held in the Haitian cities of Jacmel, Cap-Haitien, Saint-Marc and Gonaives. Demonstrators came from a wide cross section of society, including political parties, religious groups and community organisations.

Protesters were demanding further investigation into the fate of funds that resulted from subsidised oil shipments from Venezuela under the Petrocaribe programme.

The judges of the High Court of Auditors said in a voluminous report last week that Moise was at the center of an "embezzlement scheme" that had siphoned off Venezuelan aid money intended for road repairs.

"We demand that all those squandering (public) funds be tried and punished, their assets seized and turned over to the state for serious development projects, and that the president resign and turn himself in," said Velina Charlier, a protest leader.

Corruption and mismanagement

Venezuela's Petrocaribe aid programme has been plagued by allegations of corruption since its establishment in 2008.

The judges' report laid out a litany of examples of corruption and mismanagement.

The magistrates discovered, for example, that in 2014 Haitian authorities signed contracts with two different companies – Agritrans and Betexs – for the same road-repair project. The two turned out to have the same tax registration number and the same personnel.

Moise, before he came to power in 2017, headed Agritrans, which received more than 33 million gourdes ($700,000 at the time) to do the road work, though the company in principle did nothing but grow bananas.

The Petrocaribe scandal gave rise to parliamentary inquiries in 2016 and 2017, and public protests goaded the High Court of Auditors to examine how the $1.6 billion in Venezuelan funds were spent by succeeding Haitian administrations.

Opposition parties, who contested Moise's 2017 election, urged their supporters on Sunday to demonstrate peacefully.

At least seven Haitians died during violent protests in February that led to the fall of the government. But no new cabinet has been appointed, no budget has been approved, and there is no certainty when legislative elections will be held.

This comes amid a continuing economic crisis, with an inflation rate above 17 percent, the country's currency devalued, and many Haitians lacking basic necessities.

(FRANCE 24 with AP and AFP)

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