Pistol-packing senators confront Haiti's angry opposition

(Reuters) - When Senator Jean Marie Ralph Fethiere pulled a pistol and started shooting outside the Haitian parliament on Monday, to disperse what he described as “violent militants”, Reuters photographer Andres Martinez Casares was prepared for trouble.

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A little earlier another senator, Willot Joseph, was seen with a pistol in his hand when confronted by angry opposition protesters as he arrived at the parliament for the appointment of Prime Minister Fritz William Michel.

Casares realized that things could get nasty. “We decided to go and get our bulletproof vests and helmets. The situation was turning tricky.”

In fact the situation got a lot more tricky when Fethiere also pulled a gun, shooting into the air and at the ground, injuring an Associated Press photographer and a security guard. Fethiere later told a local radio station he was acting in self-defense.

A series of dramatic pictures by Casares captured the instant when protesters and journalists scrambled to get out of the line of fire as Fethiere loosed off several shots after getting out of his car in the parliament’s parking lot in Port-au-Prince.

“The shooting only lasted two or three seconds,” Casares recalled. “I took my pictures super fast.”

The shooting came at a time when Haitians have become increasingly angry at shortages of fuel and food.

A dispute between Haiti and a U.S. energy trading firm has caused power blackouts and fuel shortages in the nation of 11 million people -- the Western hemisphere’s poorest -- feeding anger at the government of President Jovenel Moise. Food prices have also risen sharply.

Casares’ widely used images show the senator grimacing at the sound of the gun as he fires, while protesters and journalists bump into each other as they flee. The weapon is clearly visible against a clear blue sky.

The senator then got into his car and drove off.

AP photographer Dieu Nalio Chery was left behind, injured in the jaw. He needed treatment to remove what appeared to be a bullet fragment, his news agency said in a published report, adding that he was expected to recover. Chery could not be reached for comment.

“I saw Chery coming towards me, calling to me and pointing to his chin,” Casares said.

At first Casares could not see anything. Then he saw blood.

“I got out a bandage from my pouch and stopped the bleeding,” Casares said. A doctor came and checked Chery out and he was taken off for treatment.

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(The story fixes typo in lede to ‘he’ from ‘has’)

Editing by Giles Elgood