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Police burn cars, lawyer’s office in Haiti protest

February 20, 2020 GMT

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) — Several dozen police officers led hundreds of supporters in a violent protest Wednesday against poor working conditions and low pay for Haiti’s national police force.

The protesting police wore civilian clothes and covered their faces but told an Associated Press reporter that they were off-duty officers. They were greeted and embraced by on-duty, uniformed officers patrolling at the protest.

The police protesters fired dozens of shots in the air from what appeared to be their 9 mm service pistols, and led hundreds of supporters in an hours-long march around Haiti’s National Police.

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The protesters burnt several cars and floats being prepared for carnival, which starts this week. They set fire to the offices of Samuel Madistin, a lawyer and adviser to President Jovenel Moise who has spoken out against a group of officers’ proposal to unionize the force.

Five officers who tried to unionize were fired Monday by the head of the force. On-duty police did not appear to be trying to stop any part of Wednesday’s protest.

Protester Jean-Yves Noel said he was marching in solidarity with a good friend who earned about $200 a month as an officer but often went several months without payment.

“I wish you could see how he is, the conditions he lives in,”′ Noel said.

Haiti’s police force has received extensive training and support from the United Nations but officers complain that a months-long standoff between Moise and his opposition has strained resources make already poor working conditions unbearable.

Opponents of police unionization say it’s not allowed under Haitian law.