Deadly attack on Haiti police headquarters as tensions escalate

PORT-AU-PRINCE (Reuters) - Gunmen stormed a police headquarters in southern Haiti on Monday leaving at least six killed in a shootout and a related accident in an apparent uprising attempt days after the volatile country missed a deadline to sign in a new president.

The police chief for Haiti’s southern region, Luc Pierre, said gunmen in military fatigues attacked at night in the coastal city of Les Cayes. They seized automatic weapons and killed a policeman before officers shot one of them dead.

“Gunmen in military fatigue attacked police headquarters around 2:30 a.m., they beat several police officers and took away a number of weapons,” Pierre said, adding that several policemen had been wounded, one seriously.

Under a political agreement struck in February after the impoverished Caribbean nation failed to hold a runoff election, a provisional president was chosen on condition he held the delayed vote in April and hand over power by May 14.

Both deadlines were missed, and an election will only be held after a commission evaluates fraud allegations in the first round, a process likely to take weeks despite U.S. and U.N. pressure.

Suspicions about Monday’s attack turned to Guy Philippe, a former coup leader wanted by U.S. authorities on cocaine trafficking charges, who this year threatened an uprising against any interim government.

Philippe denied on Monday any involvement in the attack.

One of the gunmen who was captured, Remy Teleus, told reporters that he was among more than 50 men mobilized by Philippe to take over police headquarters and the southern region.

“I was not among those who stormed the police headquarters, but I am part of a group commissioned by Guy Philippe to take over police headquarters,” Teleus said, adding that the plan had not been to kill police but that the situation turned ugly.

Philippe, who is running for senate, called for peaceful protests to pressure interim President Jocelerme Privert to complete the botched elections.

Four of the gunmen died when their vehicle crashed as they were fleeing. Others wounded in the accident were arrested.

Supporters of former President Michel Joseph Martelly, who left office without an elected successor in February, have demonstrated to demand a speedy runoff.

They took to the streets on Monday to call for the departure of Privert, who they accuse of foot dragging. A few protesters threw stones and broke windows at a radio station offices.

Editing by Frank Jack Daniel, Toni Reinhold