Seven Catholic clergy, including two French, kidnapped in Haiti: church spokesman

Seven Catholic clergy, including two French, kidnapped in Haiti: church spokesman

Haitians march in Port-au-Prince to commemorate the national day of the Haitian women's movement on April 3, 2021 -- the demonstrators denounced gang violence behind recent kidnappings and the government
Haitians march in Port-au-Prince to commemorate the national day of the Haitian women's movement on April 3, 2021 -- the demonstrators denounced gang violence behind recent kidnappings and the government

PORT-AU-PRINCE - Seven Catholic clergy, including two French citizens, were kidnapped Sunday in Haiti, said the spokesman of the Bishop's Conference for the island nation, which has been rocked by unrest.

Five priests and two nuns were abducted in the morning in Croix-des-Bouquets, a commune northeast of the capital Port-au-Prince, while they were "on their way to the installation of a new parish priest," Father Loudger Mazile told AFP.

The kidnappers had demanded a $1 million ransom for the group, which includes one French priest and one French nun, he added.

Haitian authorities suspect an armed gang called "400 Mawozo" -- which is active in kidnappings -- is behind the abduction, according to a police source.

Four of the priests are Haitian, and one of the two nuns.

The French embassy in Haiti did not respond to AFP's request for comment.

Kidnappings for ransom have surged in recent months in Port-au-Prince and other provinces, reflecting the growing influence of armed gangs in the Caribbean nation.

- Gangs on the rise -

"This is too much. The time has come for these inhuman acts to stop," Bishop Pierre-Andre Dumas of the Haitian commune Miragoane told AFP.

"The Church prays and stands in solidarity with all the victims of this heinous act."

In March, the Haitian government declared a month-long state of emergency to restore state authority in gang-controlled areas, including in the capital.

The measure was motivated by the actions of armed gangs who "kidnap people for ransom, openly declaring it, steal and loot public and private property, and openly confront the public security forces," according to the presidential decree.

The rise in gang violence and political instability have recently drawn protesters onto the streets of Port-au-Prince.

A week ago, hundreds of female protesters rallied in the city against the growing power of gangs, which has led to a spike in kidnappings for ransom.

Haiti, the poorest country in the Americas, has also been in a months-long political crisis.

President Jovenel Moise maintains that his term of office runs until February 7, 2022, but others claim it ended on February 7, 2021.

The disagreement stems from the fact that Moise was elected in a vote that was cancelled for fraud, and then re-elected a year later.

Without a parliament, the country fell further into crisis in 2020, and Moise is governing by decree, fuelling growing mistrust of him.

Amid the instability, Moise has said he plans to hold a constitutional referendum in June.

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