Journalist's killing fuels ire of Haiti protesters

PORT-AU-PRINCE (Reuters) - The killing of a journalist who had closely covered Haiti’s political and economic crisis fueled the anger of protesters on Friday, as they clashed with police and pressed calls for the president of the impoverished nation to resign.

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Nehemie Joseph was found dead in his car with several gunshot wounds to the head late on Thursday, according to his media outlet Radio Mega.

Violent crime is rife in Haiti, and the circumstances behind Joseph’s killing were not immediately known.

He had complained publicly last month of threats from politicians close to the government over his work, but Haiti’s police had no immediate comment on the killing. A government spokesman lamented the death on Twitter but offered no further comment.

The country’s online media association said Joseph was the third journalist to have been killed or “disappeared” since Moise became president 2-1/2 years ago.

“The surge in attacks on the media is very worrying,” said international rights group Reporters Without Borders, calling on authorities to step up protection for journalists.

Opposition-led protests over fuel shortages, galloping inflation and allegations of corruption by public officials have rocked Haiti for the past four weeks.

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At least 17 people have been killed and 189 injured during the anti-government demonstrations, according to Haiti’s National Network for the Defense of Human Rights, and schools and businesses have had to close.

The toll appeared to have risen on Friday as local media and the opposition reported the death of a 16-year-old in clashes with police in the town of Saint-Marc, just north of Port-au-Prince. Details were not immediately available.

In the capital, police firing teargas, rubber bullets and live shots in the air dispersed thousands of protesters who had gathered in one of Port-au-Prince’s main squares. Some protesters fought back by throwing bottles and debris.

The protesters had unsuccessfully attempted to march on the home of President Jovenel Moise, who has been implicated in allegations of corruption and embezzlement of public funds.

The embattled leader has denied any wrongdoing.

Some of the protesters burned tires in the streets while others chanted “Out with Jovenel” in creole. Sound trucks blasted music with anti-government lyrics.

“We are in misery and we are starving,” said one protester, Claude Jean. “We cannot stand it anymore.”

“We ask (Moise) to resign so that we have a new Haiti ... because we suffer too much in this country.”

Moise this week announced the formation of a commission to find a way of lifting the poorest country in the Americas out of its current crisis, but government critics said it was too late for dialogue and he must resign.

Reporting by Andre Paultre and Andres Martinez Casares in Port-au-Prince; Writing by Sarah Marsh in Havana; Editing by Tom Brown