Haiti’s President Jovenel Moise struck a combative note on Thursday in his first address since violent protests flared in the capital, defying calls for his ouster but urging dialogue to address soaring inflation and alleged misuse of funds.

Thousands of demonstrators have been calling for days for Moise to resign and for an independent probe into the whereabouts of funds from the PetroCaribe agreement, an alliance between Caribbean countries and Venezuela.

The agreement’s preferential terms for energy purchases were meant to help free up funds to aid development in the impoverished country hammered by natural disasters and ranked as the poorest in the Americas, according to the World Bank.

The protests, which have reportedly killed several people and injured many others, have highlighted widespread anxieties about the state of the economy, amid ballooning inflation and people’s struggle to pay for basic necessities.

The U.S. State department on Thursday ordered out all non-emergency U.S. personnel and their families amid spiraling unrest, citing burning tires, road blockages and rampant violent crime including armed robbery.

In an address from the presidential palace, Moise said he would not hand the country over to drug traffickers and said dialogue was the only way to stop a civil war. Continue reading

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