Clashes between ex-soldiers and protesters kill one in Haiti

One former Haitian soldier killed by anti-government demonstrators in capital Port-au-Prince amid ongoing political crisis

Photo by: AP
Photo by: AP

Armed former members of Haiti's disbanded army patrol the streets while simultaneous pro- and anti-government protests take place in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Friday, Feb. 5, 2016.

Haiti slipped deeper into unrest on Friday as former fighters roamed the capital and a mob of protesters stoned one of them to death, days before President Michel Martelly is due to leave office with no elected successor.

Reuters witnesses said a crowd attacked an unarmed man wearing green military-style clothes, who was among the retired paramilitary fighters in the streets on Friday. Such fighters toppled former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide in a 2004 coup.

"We are ready to fight the former military, they killed us in 2004, we will never let that happen again," said opposition protester Wesner Morin, 37, from the Bel Aire slum.

Martelly is due to leave office on Sunday but squabbling politicians have failed to organise an interim government to replace him, after the runoff election to choose his replacement was scrapped last month amid violence and fraud allegations.

The crisis has reopened old divisions in Haitian society, with mainly poor opposition protesters calling for the leftist Aristide to be brought back as an interim leader and the former fighters appearing in support of Martelly's camp.

The Caribbean nation, the poorest in the Western Hemisphere, has been trying since the 1980s to build a stable democracy in the wake of the decades-long rule of the Duvalier family.

Aristide disbanded the army in 1995 in an attempt to end military dominance over Haitian politics stretching back to independence two centuries earlier. Martelly last year energised former fighters by taking steps to revive the army.

The groups of ageing former gunmen drove through the capital in convoys on Friday, some waving weapons and firing into the air.

Until police took away his body, the dead veteran lay on the street in a pool of blood, his boots removed by protesters. A small card bearing the image of ruling-party candidate Jovenel Moise was stuck to the back of his crushed head.

The latest political crisis has distracted from ongoing efforts to rebuild a nation shattered by an earthquake six years ago that killed an estimated 200,000 people.

Haiti held the first round of the presidential election in October, but opposition candidates have since claimed it was tainted by major fraud. An independent commission that investigated the election cited serious irregularities.

A runoff vote scheduled for January was scrapped when the opposition candidate, Jude Celestin, threatened to boycott the process and sporadic violent protests swept the country.

With no solution to the impasse, protests have intensified in recent days in the lead up to Martelly's expected departure.

Politicians are discussing a range of options, including appointing a supreme court judge or a new prime minister to run an interim government. Martelly said in a statement on Friday that he would soon choose one of the options.

The United States, which spent some $33 million on the election, fears an interim government might linger for years, leaving Haiti without a democratically elected president, a situation the country suffered after Aristide was toppled.