Haitians take to streets in anti-government protests

Haitians take to streets in anti-government protests

Port-au-Prince (AFP) - Thousands of young Haitians demonstrated Friday in several cities demanding that President Michel Martelly step down.

In the capital of Port-au-Prince, demonstrators from multiple neighborhoods converged on the US embassy to denounce what they said was US interference in the country.

Riot police and UN peacekeepers blocked access leading to the embassy.

No incidents were reported but tear gas was fired to prevent the demonstrators from reaching the diplomatic building.

"We ask the ambassador to rid the country of the president that the Americans installed in power," said one participant, Jean Max Edouard.

Amid the protests, an English-language placard referring to the president and Prime Minister Laurent Salvador Lamothe read: "We say no to Martelly and Lamothe."

Unemployed father-of-four Jude Saint-Ame said he was protesting against "occupation."

"Haitians must be able to demonstrate where they want, without restriction," he said, decrying "the stranglehold of America" on Haiti.

One peacekeeper deployed to head off the crowd said several demonstrators had thrown stones at UN vehicles but played down the extent of the disturbances.

"They have not been aggressive towards us but we are remaining vigilant," another peacekeeper said.

Demonstrations took place in other cities as well, such as Cap-Haitien in the country's north.

In recent weeks, anti-government protests have multiplied in Haiti, the poorest country in the Americas, giving rise to clashes between Martelly supporters and opponents. On November 18, six people were hurt during demonstrations.

Apart from the resignation of Martelly, who has been in office since 2011, demonstrators are also calling for better living conditions.

Nearly 170,000 people in Haiti remain homeless following the devastating 2010 earthquake which shattered the country and claimed an estimated 250,000 lives.