Haiti's president calls for unity government, protesters demand resignation

PORT-AU-PRINCE (Reuters) - Haiti’s President Jovenel Moise called for a unity government in a rare address to the nation on Wednesday as he faced a brewing political crisis and intensifying protests after a ruling-party senator fired a pistol to disperse a crowd.

FILE PHOTO: President of Haiti Jovenel Moise addresses the 73rd session of the United Nations General Assembly at U.N. headquarters in New York, U.S., September 27, 2018. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri

Residents of the Western Hemisphere’s poorest nation have been incensed at widespread fuel and food shortages, a weakening currency, double-digit inflation and accusations that officials stole public money.

Tensions boiled over on Monday when Senator Jean Marie Ralph Fethiere fired a handgun and injured a photojournalist during a protest near parliament in the capital Port-au-Prince after several protesters yanked open his car door.

Haitians took to the streets on Wednesday in protest. In the capital, protesters set fire to a gasoline station in the Delmas neighborhood, while a large crowd from Cite Soleil, Haiti’s largest slum, clashed with police as they made their way to the wealthier Petion Ville area, according to a Reuters witness.

The crisis prompted Moise to cancel a planned trip to attend the United Nations General Assembly in New York and instead stay on the island-nation where he unexpectedly addressed Haitians at 2 a.m., urging for national unity.

“Together, let’s set out to make this crisis an opportunity to truly, once and for all, put Haiti on the road to development,” Moise said in the televised speech.

Moise instructed Prime Minister Jean Michel Lapin to “solve the problems in the chain of internal security of the country,” and reshuffled his cabinet, firing two top ministers. He urged the opposition to join a coalition unity government.

Opposition leader Andre Michel, who is looking into the alleged corruption surrounding the now defunct Petrocaribe aid program sponsored by nearby OPEC member Venezuela, rejected his calls.

“The solution to the current political crisis will come first and foremost with the resignation of Jovenel Moise,” said Michel.

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, feeding anger at Moise’s government.

The scarcity of fuel and growing economic problems has put basic necessities increasingly out of reach for many Haitians.

Reporting by Andre Paultre; Writing by Anthony Esposito