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The Americans began evacuating citizens by helicopter from Haiti: scenes from “Mad Max”

The United States said it was beginning to evacuate its citizens from Haiti by helicopter amid reports of fresh fighting in the gang-dominated capital of the Caribbean country, with particularly fierce gunfire in some of the city’s wealthiest enclaves.

US State Department spokesman Vedant Patel told reporters on Wednesday that government-chartered planes were beginning to transport evacuees from Port-au-Prince to the Dominican Republic, which shares the island of Hispaniola with the Republic of Haiti, The Guardian writes.

“The violence on the ground in Port-au-Prince has been horrendous and the security situation is certainly high risk, but we would not undertake an operation like this if we did not feel it was safe and we did not have the experience.” , says Patel.

Patel describes the situation in the Haitian capital, where heavily armed militias rebelled against the government on February 29, as “very unstable.” Future evacuation flights will be reviewed on a daily basis.

Patel adds that nearly 1,600 U.S. citizens in Haiti have contacted the government about the security crisis, either asking for evacuation or seeking advice on how to stay safe.

As the evacuation began, journalists and witnesses reported renewed fighting in the Haitian capital, which UNICEF chief Catherine Russell this week likened to “a scene from Mad Max.”

“Heavy gunfire echoed through once peaceful communities near Haiti’s capital,” said the Associated Press, whose reporters saw at least five bodies in and around the city’s suburbs.

Matt Knight, a British aid worker based in Port-au-Prince, said: “The shooting today was constant… It was just deafening… I can still hear the shots. This went on all day: like a continuous clap-clap – all day long. Sometimes it seems like it’s two streets away, sometimes it feels like it’s half a mile away. But it was just constant… This is the worst day to date.”

Knight, who is director of the Irish humanitarian aid agency Goal Global in Haiti, said his organization was able to resume its activities in a troubled suburb of Port-au-Prince after the shooting there subsided. But in recent days the violence has moved to some of the city’s most exclusive areas, including Laboule, Thomassen and Pétion-Ville.

Residents of the affected communities have reportedly made calls on local radio stations asking for help from Haiti’s armed police force, which is struggling to prevent gangs from taking full control of the capital.

“Pétion-Ville is under heavy artillery fire. Everything is paralyzed,” Miami Herald Caribbean correspondent Jacqueline Charles tweeted Wednesday afternoon.

As fighting continued, intense behind-the-scenes negotiations continued to create a transition council tasked with choosing an interim leadership that would lead Haiti to new elections.

Haiti has not had a president since Jovenel Moïse, who came to power in 2017, was assassinated in 2021, The Guardian recalls. The unpopular prime minister and acting president, Ariel Henry, was driven out of his country by a gang uprising. Under pressure from US and Caribbean leaders, Henri promised to relinquish power once a seven-member transition council was in place.

Patel told reporters on Wednesday: “Every day counts and we hope that discussions with members of the presidential transition council continue.”

The US believed that Haitian negotiators, representing various political factions and civil society representatives, were very close to finalizing a deal. However, it is unclear whether the creation of such a council will bring peace to Port-au-Prince.

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