Haiti president calls for unity as protesters reject appeal

EVENS SANON
FILE - In this Aug. 28, 2019 file photo, Haiti's President Jovenel Moise speaks during an interview in his office in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Moise is urging a pause in protests that have paralyzed the Caribbean nation. The Haitian leader appealed for calm and unity in a televised speech early Wednesday, Sept. 25, 2019, as he asked opponents to help his administration resolve the multiple problems Haiti is facing. (AP Photo/Dieu Nalio Chery, File)

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) — Haitian President Jovenel Moïse on Wednesday urged a pause in unrest that has paralyzed the Caribbean nation, but offered no solution to the demands of protesters furious over corruption, a gasoline shortage and growing economic hardship.

Moïse, who has largely avoided public appearances in recent weeks, made a televised appeal for unity as he asked opponents to help his administration resolve the multiple problems facing Haiti.

"Unemployment, insecurity and political turmoil prevent children from going to school, paralyzing many other activities," he said. "These events have far-reaching consequences for our lives and the lives of our children."

The country has been roiled by months of protests over a corruption scandal involving allegations that top government officials under the previous government misused billions of dollars public funds meant for urgent social programs. So far, no one has been indicted.

Surging inflation has been eating away at salaries in one of the hemisphere's poorest nations and the cash-starved government has been unable to pay gasoline suppliers who are demanding some $100 million owed for previous shipments. They have cut off deliveries, forcing gas stations in Port-au-Prince and elsewhere to remain largely closed for three weeks.

Meanwhile, opposition lawmakers have blocked Moïse's choice of prime minister as a way to pressure him to leave office and hinder his ability to govern. That led to a clash Monday in which a senator fired a gun as protesters rushed toward him and two people were hit by bullets, including an Associated Press photographer and a Senate guard.

Most schools and businesses remained closed on Wednesday and protesters set up barricades including burning tires across Port-au-Prince and surrounding communities despite Moïse's speech. In some areas, protesters threw rocks and bottles at cars and pedestrians, officials said.

During his speech, Moïse acknowledged people's anger and said he knows many Haitians live day by day as he called for dialogue.

"Let us have the courage to dare to unite," he said. "Let us have the courage to reject the practices that have fueled our adversity."

But the embattled president did not offer to step down, as protesters have demanded for months, nor did he offer solutions to the economic woes.

Jean-Marie Brinaire, a 45-year-old unemployed man who was trying to find food for his three children in Port-au-Prince, said he heard the speech but was disappointed that Moïse didn't address issues including corruption allegations.

"The president did not propose any real solution," he said. "If the president understands what's going on, he should step down and let a council run the country until we can set up presidential elections."