Haitians protest despite fuel hike U-turn; flights cancelled

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People riding motorbikes pass by a burnt car outside of the customs facilities in Malpasse, Haiti, July 8, 2018. REUTERS/Andres Martinez Casares

Port-au-Prince (Reuters) – Haitian leaders have pleaded for calm as violent protests over fuel price increases entered a second day and US airlines canceled flights to the Caribbean nation.

Prime Minister Jack Guy Lafontant announced the temporary suspension of double-digit government hikes to prices for gasoline, diesel and kerosene on Saturday afternoon – just a day after they were announced.

But as local television footage showed, the government’s decision to back down did not keep angry residents from taking to the streets. Some demonstrators erected flaming roadblocks, while others attacked hotels and businesses.

“The poor people want to be able to eat,” one masked protester told Reuters TV as a car blazed behind him. “I want to tell (President) Jovenel (Moïse) that Haiti is not for him and his family. Haiti is for every Haitian. He needs to leave the country and leave the country to us so we can live.”

In a statement, Mr Lafontant said the government strongly condemns the acts of violence and vandalism.

US carriers American Airlines, JetBlue and Spirit Airlines announced flight cancellations Saturday to the capital Port-au-Prince citing civil unrest.

The US Embassy in Haiti advised personnel and Americans in the country to shelter in place.

The US State Department said separately that it was aware of vandalism at a Best Western hotel, where media reports said Americans were staying, and at an American Airlines office in downtown Port-au-Prince.

On Friday, Haiti’s Commerce and Economic ministries announced that fuel price increases, including a 38 percent jump for gasoline and 47 percent for diesel, would take effect at midnight.

The now-suspended decision by Mr Moïse’s government to raise prices was part of an agreement with the International Monetary Fund, which requires the country to enact a range of austerity measures.

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