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Haiti's main international airport reopens after gang violence forced it to close

Haiti's main international airport reopens after gang violence forced it to close


Haiti's main international airport reopened Monday for the first time in nearly three months after relentless gang violence forced authorities to close it.

The reopening of Toussaint-Louverture airport in the capital Port-au-Prince is expected to help ease critical shortages of medicine and other basic supplies. The country's main seaport remains badly affected. Gangs control 80% of capital.

US-based airlines are not expected to begin using the airport until late May or early June.

The first commercial passenger flight since March departed for Miami nearly two hours behind schedule, with sweaty passengers complaining to domestic carrier Sunrise Airways about the lack of air conditioning until takeoff.

Before Monday, the only airport operating in Haiti was located in the northern coastal city of Cap-Haitien. It was unreachable LOT seeking to leave the country, with the roads leading from Port-au-Prince controlled by gangs who have opened fire on passing cars and buses.

The US government had evacuated hundreds of citizens by helicopter from a hilly neighborhood in Port-au-Prince, as well as non-profit organizations, while gangs cordoned off parts of the capital.

The attacks began on February 29, with gunmen taking control of police stations, opening fire at Port-au-Prince airport and storming Haiti's two largest prisons, freeing more than 4,000 inmates.

The gangs have since turned their attacks on previously peaceful communities, leaving thousands homeless.

More than 2,500 people have been killed or injured in Haiti from January to March, an increase of more than 50% compared to the same period last year, according to the United Nations.

At the Couronne Bar near the airport's only functioning gate on Monday, 43-year-old manager Klav-Dja Raphael welcomed her first customers. But her smile belied her fear.

“We are scared because they can still attack us here,” she said. “We have to go in. It's our job, but we're afraid.” She recalled how bullets flew through the airport the day she was attacked.

While the airport provided workers with a month's wages, she remained unemployed for the rest of the time, relying on friends and family. She is anxious to join her 13-year-old son who lives in Florida with his father.

The other workers, including those in immigration, were all smiles, glad to finally be back at work. “It was a long break!” said an immigration agent.

Dozens of people lined up hours before the flight.

“I am very happy, but it hurts that I am leaving my husband and my son,” said his girlfriend Antoine, as her eyes began to tear.

She got a visa that allowed her to live in the US, but the rest of her family is still waiting. They applied because gangs kept infesting their neighborhood. “There is heavy gunfire every day,” she said. “Sometimes we have to hide under the bed.”

Jean Doovenskey, a 31-year-old accountant left unemployed by the violence, said he was notified in early April that he was authorized to live in the US. He will live with his aunt in Florida, but hopes to return to Haiti one day and live. “I believe in a new Haiti,” he said.

The attack at the airport also left the ex Prime Minister Ariel Henry locked out of Haiti since he was on an official trip to Kenya. He has since resigned and a transitional presidential council is looking for a new prime minister. It is also tasked with electing a new cabinet and organizing general elections.

In recent weeks, US military aircraft have landed at Port-au-Prince airport with supplies as well as civilian contractors to help Haiti prepare for the arrival of foreign forces expected to help quell gang violence.

On Sunday, Kenya's foreign affairs principal secretary Korir Sing'oei said a plan to deploy police officers from the East African country was in the final stages.

“I can tell you for sure that the deployment will happen in the next few days, a few weeks,” he said.

In March, Kenya and Haiti signed agreements to try to save a plan for the country to deploy 1,000 police officers to the troubled Caribbean nation. Other countries expected to support Kenyan forces include the Bahamas, Barbados, Benin, Chad and Bangladesh. It was not immediately clear when they would arrive.




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