Gangs target peaceful communities in new round of attacks on Haiti’s capital

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PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — Armed gangs launched new attacks in the suburbs of Port-au-Prince early Wednesday, with heavy gunfire echoing across once-peaceful communities near the Haitian capital.

Associated Press journalists reported seeing at least five bodies in and around the suburbs, and gangs blocked the entrances to some areas.

People in the communities under fire called radio stations pleading for help from Haiti’s national police force, which remains understaffed and outmatched by the gangs. Among the communities targeted in the pre-dawn hours were Pétion-Ville, Meyotte, Diègue and Métivier.

As the attacks continued, the U.S. State Department announced Wednesday that it had completed its first evacuation of American citizens from Port-au-Prince. More than 15 Americans were airlifted to neighboring Santo Domingo, the capital of the Dominican Republic.

More than 30 U.S. citizens will be able to leave Port-au-Prince daily aboard the U.S. government-organized helicopter flights, the agency said.

“We will continue to monitor demand from U.S. citizens for assistance in departing Haiti on a real-time basis,” the department said.

On Sunday, the agency evacuated more than 30 U.S. citizens from the coastal city of Cap-Haitien in northern Haiti to Miami International Airport.

“We hope that conditions will allow a return of commercial means for people to travel from Haiti soon. We and the international community and the Haitian authorities are working for that to become a reality,” the State Department said.

Wednesday’s attacks in parts of Port-au-Prince came two days after gangs went on a rampage through the upscale neighborhoods of Laboule and Thomassin in Pétion-Ville, with at least a dozen people killed.

The violence forced the closure of banks, schools and businesses across Pétion-Ville, which until now had been largely spared from the attacks that gangs launched on Feb. 29.

Gunmen have set fire to police stations, forced the closure of Haiti’s main international airport and stormed the country’s two biggest prisons, releasing more than 4,000 inmates.

Scores of people have been killed and some 17,000 others have been left homeless amid the violence.

Meanwhile, Haitians await the possibility of new leadership as Caribbean officials rush to help form a transitional presidential council that will be responsible for appointing an interim prime minister and a council of ministers.

Prime Minister Ariel Henry, who was locked out of Haiti when the airports closed, has said he will resign once the council is formed.

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