A test monitor looking at the list of students in his room at Jean-Jacques Rousseau High School in Port-au-Prince on June 20, 2022. Photo by Murdith Joseph for The Haitian Times

PORT-AU-PRINCE — Gunshots from heavy automatic weapons erupted across Haiti’s capital and neighboring localities early June 20, sending scores of people into great panic. The hours before ninth graders began sitting for the annual state exams and days after a gang leader vowed to set certain areas into turmoil.

Images of burning tires and men armed with heavy weapons riding around on motorcycles in downtown Port-au-Prince flooded social media throughout the day. Local news media reported that burning tires were erected at the corner of John Brown Avenue and Lamarre Street. Neither private vehicles nor public transport buses could use the stretches of road near the Champ-de-Mars area.

In Tabarre, a locality of Croix-des-Bouquets, residents said on local radio they heard the discharge of automatic weapons, causing fear among the townspeople. Residents of Pernier, a locality of Pétion Ville, reported similar scenarios to local media.

Residents have linked the chaos to a suspected criminal known as Vitelhomme, the alleged gang leader of “400 Mawozo” gang that operates in Croix-des-Bouquets. The residents point to a statement Vitelhomme made on Radio Méga June 17, where he warned Haiti’s political authorities against refusing to negotiate with his group. He promised to set Pernier on fire if the government does not involve him in talks to restore peace and tranquility through the Haitian National Police (PNH).

The ninth graders’ official annual state exams that started today will last four days.

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