Haiti police bolster security around palace ahead of transition

Armed gang members walk through the streets near the presidential palace as a transition council meant to usher in a new government, is set to be sworn in at the palace, though a date has yet to be confirmed, in Port-au-Prince, Haiti April 23, 2024. [Reuters]

Haitian police deployed tear gas to move people back from a security perimeter around the National Palace while soldiers gripping rifles patrolled the international airport's diplomatic entrance on Tuesday, ahead of a planned change of government.

The palace has come under repeated fire from gangs that have paralyzed the capital, Port-au-Prince.

A nine-member presidential transition council is to be sworn in at the palace, and although no date has been announced, rumors circulated that it could happen this week.

The council is expected to name an interim prime minister and help set up a government that will eventually organize elections in the Caribbean island nation.

"Whether or not you're installed, this message is for you: Brace yourselves," gang leader Jimmy "Barbecue" Cherizier ominously warned in a Tuesday video shared on social media.

Cherizier has called for toppling the government.

The U.S. military said on Tuesday it bolstered defenses at its embassy.

Outgoing Prime Minister Ariel Henry has for more than a year called for international troops to help police fight the gangs. But plans moved slowly and were eventually paused when he announced in March his plan to step down, pending a new interim government.

Since then, attacks have escalated, and the transition has lagged.

Port-au-Prince resident Jerry Louis expressed cautious optimism.

"The presidential council will be able to stabilize the country, but the international community must accept it," he said in an interview.

Motorcycle driver Paolo, who did not share his last name, pointed to lawlessness as a major obstacle.

The presidential council "has to put in place a minimum of security so that the population can go about its business," he said.

Gangs are accused of perpetrating widespread rape, ransom kidnappings and indiscriminate killings. The conflict has seen hundreds of thousands internally displaced, and millions pushed into acute hunger while key ports remain closed.