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Haiti government asks for patience amid deadly fuel price protests

AFP  |  Port-au-Prince 

Haiti's today called for calm and patience from residents of the nation amid deadly protests in several cities over an unpopular fuel price rise.

At least one person died there in overnight violence.

The capital Port-au-and its environs have stood paralyzed since Friday afternoon with major routes blocked by barricades, some made of burning tires, and some protesters even calling for a revolution.

An heard the sound of sporadic gunfire in several neighborhoods, while the police presence remained limited. Shop and in some affluent districts have been broken.

Similar angry protests broke out in Cap-Haitien, the second-largest city, as well as in the communes of Les Cayes, Jacmel and Petit-Goave.

The troubles were sparked by a government announcement that gasoline prices would rise by 38 per cent, diesel by 47 per cent and kerosene by 51 per cent starting this weekend.

Many service stations have suspended operations. Station operators said they did not want to provide gas that could be used to set fires, or to be targeted by demonstrators. Angry protesters reportedly tried to torch at least one station before police intervened.

The protests prompted several major airlines, including American, Air France, Delta, and Copa, to cancel flights to Port-au-Prince, at least through mid-day today.

The demonstrations drew an impassioned plea by for calm.

"I ask your patience because our administration has a vision, a clear program," he said. "Do not destroy, because every time it's that becomes poorer."

"The country is under construction but if each time we destroy we will always lag behind."

Last night the of an died in an altercation with demonstrators in central Port-au-as he attempted to force a passage through a roadblock. His body was then burned in the road.

The pleaded urgently for calm.

"We understand your right to protest," said "But we do not understand the violence." At least two police stations and several police vehicles have been burned.

A framework signed in February between the (IMF) and implied the ending of subsidies for petroleum products, which are a major source of the budget deficit.

But subsidies also help make fuel affordable in the Western Hemisphere's poorest country, where most people live in extreme poverty, joblessness is widespread and the inflation rate has exceeded 13 percent for the past three years.

The government faces the difficult task of finding a diplomatic way to persuade ordinary Haitians that higher fuel prices make sense.

"We don't talk about an increase but rather about putting fuel prices where they should be," Lafontant insisted in his televised remarks Saturday.

He said that between 2010 and 2018, the government had subsidized fuel to the tune of USD 1 billion -- an amount, he said, that "could have allowed us to build many kilometers of highway... many classrooms... many health clinics."

Government officials also complain that the country has for years effectively been subsidizing people in the neighboring who drive across the border to take advantage of Haiti's lower fuel prices.

(This story has not been edited by Business Standard staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

First Published: Sat, July 07 2018. 22:10 IST