Haitians on Friday vowed to keep protesting until President Jovenel Moise resigns, despite his announcement of upcoming economic measures designed to quell more than a week of violent demonstrations across the country.
Moise said during a televised address late Thursday that he would not surrender the country to armed gangs and drug dealers, and he accused people of freeing prisoners to kill him. It was the first time Moise had spoken since the demonstrations began, and he made another call for dialogue with the opposition.
"I heard the voice of the people. I know the problems that torment them. That's why the government has taken a lot of measures," he said. "I asked the Prime Minister to come and explain them and implement them without delay in order to relieve misery."
He said Prime Minister Jean-Henry Ceant would share details of the new economic measures Friday, but none were announced as protesters once again clashed with police in the Port-au-Prince neighborhood of Delmas. Unrest also was reported in cities including Gonaives and Mirebalais, while opposition leaders said they would join in and head to Moise's home.
Protesters remain angry about skyrocketing inflation and the government's failure to prosecute embezzlement from a multi-billion dollar Venezuelan program that sent discounted oil to Haiti. Few believe the government will take any steps to alleviate the crisis.
Widler Saintil, a 35-year-old shop owner, said he has been forced to reduce the amount of food he eats because he can't afford to buy as much milk, bread, sugar, rice or beans as before. He also has been unable to work or send his two children to school.
"The situation has gotten worse," he said, adding that he will take part in the demonstrations until Moise resigns.
Protesters also continued to block roads across Haiti as food, water and gas became scarce and schools, businesses and government offices remain closed. Louis Didie Herold, who oversees Haiti's National Ambulance Center, told Radio Vision 2000 that the center would likely not be able to provide service after Friday because of gas shortages. Meanwhile, a hospital in Desjardines north of the capital said it was running out of oxygen and medicine.
Moise was sworn in as president in February 2017 for a five-year term and promised to fight corruption and bring investment and jobs to one of the least developed nations in the world. His swearing-in marked Haiti's return to constitutional rule a year after ex-President Michel Martelly left office without an elected successor amid waves of opposition protests and a political stalemate that resulted in suspended elections.
Moise is a businessman from northern Haiti and had never run for office until he was hand-picked in 2015 to be the Tet Kale party candidate by Martelly.
On Thursday, the U.S. Department of State issued a travel advisory warning people not to travel to Haiti because of crime and civil unrest. It recalled all non-emergency U.S. personnel and their families and warned that it had limited ability to provide emergency services to U.S. citizens in the Caribbean country.
The U.S. government said in a statement that it supported Moise's call for dialogue and urged people to express themselves peacefully.
"We also encourage the full implementation of sound economic policy measures for the benefit of the Haitian people," it stated, adding: "We urge the government to redouble its efforts in fighting corruption and in holding those implicated in the PetroCaribe scandal accountable."
Meanwhile, the Canadian embassy in Port-au-Prince has been temporarily closed, and officials said they're trying to fly Canadians home, including 113 tourists staying at a Haitian resort.
Some tourists and missionary groups along with foreign doctors and nurses have been unable to leave Haiti because protests and barricades have blocked access to the airport, according to social media posts.
Chris Bessey, with Catholic Relief Services in Haiti, said in a phone interview that their offices have remained closed since Feb. 8 as a result of the demonstrations and that non-Haitian staffers have flown home.
"Essentially, we're stopped in terms of our program, which is devastating because the need is even greater than it was before," he said.
Associated Press writer Danica Coto contributed to this report from San Juan, Puerto Rico.