Protesters who hold UN soldiers from Nepal responsible for a deadly outbreak of cholera which has killed nearly 1,000 people have barricaded Haiti’s second-largest city, burned cars and stoned a peacekeeping base.
The protesters also blame the Nepalese unit there for the death of a Haitian youth at the base in August.
Demonstrations began in Cap-Haitien about 6am local time and within hours paralysed much of the northern port city, national television reporter Johnny Joseph told The Associated Press by phone.
An AP television cameraman trying to reach the area was repelled late on Saturday by protesters throwing rocks and bottles from a barricade.
Protesters have also targeted other UN bases and Haitian national police stations in the city. Haitian radio reported a police substation was burned.
UN soldiers and Haitian police fired tear gas and projectiles to disperse at least 1,000 protesters at the Nepalese base, Haitian radio reported. At least 12 Haitians were injured, Radio Metropole reported. There were no reports of injuries to UN personnel or other foreigners.
“We remain very concerned about the volatile situation in Cap-Haitien,” UN mission spokesman Vincenzo Pugliese said.
He blamed political actors for stoking the unrest.
“It looks like the demonstration began in three or four parts in the city in a simultaneous way that means it was planned ahead or organised,” he said.
The protest comes as Haiti approaches national elections on 28 November. The cholera backlash is rooted both in fear of a disease previously unknown to Haiti and internationally shared suspicion that the UN base could have been a source of the infection.
A case of cholera had never before been documented in Haiti before it broke out about three weeks ago. Transmitted by faeces, the disease can be all but prevented if people have access to safe drinking water and regularly wash their hands.
President Rene Preval addressed the nation on Sunday to dispel myths and educate people on good sanitation and hygiene.
But sanitary conditions do not exist in much of Haiti, and more than 14,600 people have been admitted to hospital as the disease has spread across the countryside and to nearly all the country’s major population centres, including the capital, Port-au-Prince.
Doctors Without Borders and other medical aid groups have expressed concern that the outbreak could eventually affect hundreds of thousands of people.
The suspicions surround a Nepalese base located several hours south of Cap-Haitien on the Artibonite River system, where the outbreak started. The soldiers arrived there in October following outbreaks in their home country and about a week before Haiti’s epidemic was discovered.
The US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention found that the strain now ravaging the country matched a strain specific to South Asia, but said they had not pinpointed its origin or how it arrived in Haiti.
Following an Associated Press investigation, the UN acknowledged that there were sanitation problems at the base, but said its soldiers were not responsible for the outbreak. No formal or independent investigation has taken place despite calls from Haitian human-rights groups and US health care experts.