Haiti: photojournalist shot in face as senator opens fire outside parliament

  • Jean Marie Ralph Féthière draws handgun amid chaotic scenes
  • Chery Dieu-Nalio avoids serious injury; another man wounded

Two men including a photojournalist have been shot and injured by a Haitian senator who opened fire outside the country’s parliament, amid chaotic scenes as the government attempted to confirm the appointment of a new prime minister.

Chery Dieu-Nalio, an Associated Press photographer, was wounded in the face and a second man, Leon Leblanc, a security guard and driver, was also injured in the incident in the country’s capital, Port-au-Prince, on Monday.

Although doctors were reported to be removing bullet fragments from Dieu-Nalio’s face, the injuries are said not to be life-threatening.

Before leaving the scene, Leblanc told reporters he had seen Jean Marie Ralph Féthière, a senator from the north of the country, draw a handgun as he tried to leave the parliamentary precincts through a crowd of protesters.

Another senator, Patrice Dumont, said Féthière warned the crowd he would shoot if they did not let him leave.

Féthière later justified his actions, without actually admitting firing his weapons. He told Radio Mega, “I was attacked by groups of violent militants. They tried to get me out of my vehicle. And so I defended myself. Self-defence is a sacred right.

“Armed individuals threatened me. It was proportional. Equal force, equal response.”

He said he did not know a journalist was present, even though Dieu-Nalio was wearing a helmet and flak jacket inscribed with the word “Press”.

Photojournalist Dieu Nalio Chery holds a healing gauze next to his mouth.
Photojournalist Chery Dieu-Nalio holds a healing gauze next to his mouth. Photograph: Andrés Martínez Casares/Reuters

The incident came as the Haitian senate attempted to meet for the second time in two days to confirm the appointment of a new prime minister, Fritz-William Michel.

President Jovenel Moïse is attempting to force through the appointment so he can leave the country to speak at the UN this week. His departure has already been delayed since Sunday.

Haiti has been convulsed for a week by demonstrations against Moïse and the government, strengthened by fury at a serious fuel shortage and the rising cost of living.

Protesters have blocked roads the length and breadth of the Caribbean nation, using trees, rocks, burning tyres and cars and trucks.

Michel’s nomination has already caused violence in the parliament, with politicians hitting each other with chairs and fists in the national assembly.

Two years into his five-year term, Moïse is widely discredited. Annual per capita income is $350 a year and inflation is currently standing at 19%. Fuel price rises and their associated effect on food, have left Haitians to the point of despair.

Even before the recent wave of unrest, Haitians have been saying the current situation is more serious than the Duvalier dictatorships, the US invasion or the 2010 earthquake. “I can’t remember a situation this bad,” said Leslie Voltaire, a former presidential candidate and adviser to two former presidents.

Tensions had been rising outside the senate since early on Monday.

The senate president, Carl Murat Cantave, had given instructions to the police that only senators would be allowed in to the senate precinct with one driver and two police-appointed security agents.

People run as Haiti’s Senator Jean Marie Ralph Féthière holds a gun in Port-au-Prince, Haiti.
People run as Haiti’s Senator Jean Marie Ralph Féthière holds a gun in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Photograph: Andrés Martínez Casares/Reuters

Within hours he was criticising the police on Radio Magik9, saying they could not contain the crowds and there was chaos in the yard. Separately the senator Jean Rigaud Belizaire complained the senate’s rooms had been smeared with a liquid resembling faeces.

Senators, realising that the session would not happen and the ratification would have to be delayed again, began trying to leave to shouts of “thief, thief, thief.”

Cantave himself was reported to be confined to parliament, having to retreat in his car under a barrage of rocks.

In a separate incident, in the town of Gonaïves, the offices of Cantave’s foundation were attacked and destroyed.

Demonstrators continue to move through Port-au-Prince, as rumours swirled that there would be other attempts, possibly at another location, to ratify Michel.

Contributor

Ruaridh Nicoll in Port-au-Prince

The GuardianTramp

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