Haiti protesters rally to demand prez departure

Haiti protesters rally to demand prez departure
AP Photo/Dieu Nalio Chery

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) _ Protesters burned tires and threw rocks and glass bottles at riot police during another anti-government demonstration in Haiti’s capital Saturday amid a bitter political stalemate over long-delayed elections.

The demonstration of mostly young men reached a peak of about 1,500 in downtown Port-au-Prince as protesters called for the departure of President Michel Martelly, who took office in May 2011 and is due to leave next year. Police fired tear gas and sprayed water from an armored vehicle, scattering the crowd at a plaza close to where the National Palace stood before it collapsed in Haiti’s 2010 earthquake.

There has been no letup in raucous protests since last month’s resignation of Martelly’s prime minister, Laurent Lamothe, and other concessions aimed at resolving the stalemate holding up legislative elections. A presidential commission had called for Lamothe’s resignation, among other steps, to resolve the gridlock that has sparked protests.

Riche Clebert, a snack vendor who did not participate in the demonstration, said he has grown exhausted with the cycle of political protests, which often end with violence near the old National Palace site.

“I have three children to feed and I have lost all patience with this. This is not leading our country anywhere,” Clebert said as he clutched his tray of sugary breads and watched dozens of young men running from billowing clouds of tear gas.

After fleeing a blast from a water cannon, protester Jean Junior said Martelly had to go. “Haiti cannot continue like this because the population has not benefited from this government,” he said.

Haiti faces an uncertain political future in coming days with the terms of all members of both legislative houses expiring Monday, exactly five years after a devastating earthquake struck the nation of 10 million people. If a last-minute agreement isn’t reached through negotiations with political opponents, Martelly will rule by decree starting next week.

Martelly was supposed to call elections in 2011 for a majority of Senate seats, the entire Chamber of Deputies and local offices. But opposition lawmakers have used parliamentary procedure to prevent the ballots while accusing the president of abusing his authority to appoint supporters to the electoral council.

The country has faced mounting pressure from the U.N., U.S. and others to organize a vote before Parliament is dissolved, but recent talks between Martelly and senators have not solved the problem.