Haiti’s embattled president was forced on Thursday to hold a private ceremony amid heavy security for what is usually a public celebration of one of the country’s founding fathers.
Jovenel Moise and other officials appeared at the National Pantheon Museum in downtown Port-au-Prince as hundreds of armed police officers closed down the surrounding area while protesters who demanded his resignation began to gather nearby.
“This is not how a government should be functioning,” said Mario Terrain, who is 29 and unemployed. “The president is in hiding.”
Moise did not speak to reporters and left after the brief ceremony to commemorate the death of Jean-Jacques Dessalines, whose rule ended in 1806 following a military revolt. Protesters had prevented Moise from visiting Pont-Rouge, the site north of the capital where Dessalines was killed and where the ceremony is usually held.
Anger over corruption, inflation and scarcity of basic goods including fuel has led to large protests that began five weeks ago and have shuttered many businesses and schools.
A couple hundred protesters had already gathered at Pont-Rouge as they criticized Moise.
“We dare the president to come,” said 28-year-old Joel Theodore. “It will be his last day in office.”
The president held a surprise press conference on Tuesday and said he would not resign as he once again urged unity and dialogue. Opposition leaders, however, said protesters would remain on the streets until he steps down.