Haiti’s biggest celebration of the year, Carnival, has been canceled after deadly protests and gunfire interrupted the first day of festivities in Port-au-Prince, leaving at least one person dead.
Haiti’s vibrant Carnival draws thousands every year for mass celebrations. But the three-day festival was cut short after gunshots were heard and people ran for cover in the nation’s capital over the weekend.
“In order to avoid a planned bloodshed, the Government takes the opportunity to inform the population that the carnival has been canceled in Port-au-Prince and invites the Haitian people to remain calm while waiting for the next announcements,” a statement from Haiti’s communication ministry read on Sunday.
Haiti’s Armed Forces said protesters from the country’s National Police had attacked its headquarters, leaving one soldier dead and two others injured. Haitian police have been protesting for months, demanding better pay and conditions, but have not yet responded to claims their officers were involved in this incident.
“Despite the repeated assaults of the attackers, the military authorities maintain a defensive posture to avoid a bloodbath. The High Command of the Armed Forces once again calls on the National Police of Haiti to restore calm,” Sunday’s statement from the Armed Forces read.
Video from Reuters shows chaos in the city, with fire burning near the festivities and people ducking for cover as gunshots are heard. Other images show several people with guns running throughout the event.
The United Nations office in Haiti expressed its “grave concern” for “the serious incidents Sunday” that “lead to the cancellation of the Carnival celebrations,” on Monday.
“The United Nations calls on all sectors, in particular those elements of the national police demanding better working conditions, to avoid any situation which could cause tensions to escalate and jeopardize the security of the population,” the statement read.
The police protests are not directly related to recent anti-government protests, but they add to the widespread unrest that has gripped the nation since February last year as demonstrators demand the resignation of Haitian President Jovenel Moise.
Reporting contributed by Etant Dupain in Port au Prince.