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Haiti PM Jack Guy Lafontant resigns after days of protests

Embattled prime minister steps down following days of violent protests sparked by a botched bid to raise fuel prices.

Haiti PM Jack Guy Lafontant

Jack Guy Lafontant, Haiti's embattled prime minister, has announced his resignation following days of violent protests sparked by a now-abandoned plan to raise fuel prices.

"I submitted my resignation to the president of the republic", who has "accepted my resignation", Lafontant said on Saturday in the lower house of Haiti's legislature.

Lafontant had faced a potential vote of no confidence had he not stepped down.

The unrest started after the government unveiled a proposal to eliminate fuel subsidies which in turn would have hiked fuel prices: 38 percent for gasoline, 47 percent for diesel and 51 percent for kerosene.

The announcement sparked mass protests, with streets in the capital, Port-au-Prince, and other cities blocked with barricades of debris and burning tires.

At least seven people were killed and dozens of businesses were looted or destroyed during three days of demonstrations.

Lafontant, who took office in February 2017, later announced the plan would not go ahead, but protesters still demanded his resignation.

IMF package

Lafontant, a physician, had faced widespread criticism even before the eruption of violence.

Around 60 percent of Haiti's population live on less than $2 a day, and they are extremely sensitive to even minor increases in prices of just about anything.

In February, the country signed an agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), in which it committed to carrying out economic and structural reforms to promote growth.

One of those conditions was the elimination of petroleum product subsidies, prompting the doomed price hike proposal.  The accord also called on the government to keep inflation under 10 percent.

Since 2015, inflation has been running at 13 to 14 percent annually. The budget blueprint submitted to the legislature in late June still foresaw a rate of 13.6 percent.

On Thursday, the IMF, the US-based global crisis lender, suggested "a more gradual approach" to ending fuel subsidies, paired with "compensatory and mitigating measures to protect the most vulnerable people."

"We will continue to support Haiti ... as they develop a revised reform strategy," IMF spokesman Gerry Rice said, noting that ending subsidies would free up funds for other programs like education.

Crafting a revised strategy, as well as divvying up Haiti's meager budget resources, will be a delicate task.

The decision to scrap the price hikes means the government will have to find another way to come up with the $300m the move would have generated.

It is not an insignificant amount. The total is more than 11 percent of the 2018-2019 budget presented to parliament in June for debate.


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