Haiti gangs wage battles in downtown Port-au-Prince

Police officers hold weapons as they patrol the street in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, July 27, 2022, in in this still image obtained from social media video. Courtesy of Passion Info Plus/via REUTERS

PORT-AU-PRINCE (Reuters) - Haitian gangs waged intense gun battles on Wednesday in Port-au-Prince, shuttering main avenues and a municipal market in the downtown area of the capital.

One video filmed downtown showed men running toward police with their hands in the air as gunshots rang out, in a new outbreak of violence following gang clashes this month outside the capital that killed hundreds of people.

The cathedral of Port-au-Prince caught fire and was partially damaged before firefighters could put out the blaze, the origin of which has not yet been determined but was believed to be linked to the gang battles.

Amid the shooting, prisoners at a downtown Port-au-Prince penitentiary broke out of their cells and gathered in the prison yard in an unsuccessful attempt to escape, the penitentiary's inspector general Pierre Rene Francois told Haitian radio.

Shots were also reported on Wednesday in the town of Cite Soleil, where the United Nations says gang clashes left more than 471 people dead, wounded or missing for over a week starting in early July.

Gang violence has soared since the assassination last year of President Jovenel Moise, creating a political vacuum that criminal groups have taken advantage of to expand control over territory.

Rights activists in May said a protracted gang confrontation killed nearly 150 people.

(Reporting by Harold Isaac in Port-au-Prince and Brian Ellsworth in Miami; Editing by Chris Reese)

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