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Some of Haiti’s most powerful gang leaders are threatening more violence if they are not allowed political sway

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A dog investigates a man's charred remains on the roadside in Port-au-Prince. Evidence around the scene suggested a tire was placed around his torso and he was set on fire with gasoline. Preventing such violence is a challenge for Haitian authorities who have lost control of much of the capital city to gangs.Goran Tomasevic/The Globe and Mail

Haiti’s newly installed transitional council chose a little known former sports minister as the Caribbean country’s Prime Minister Tuesday as part of its monumental task of trying to establish a stable new government amid stifling violence.

Fritz Belizaire was chosen in a surprise move to replace current interim Prime Minister Michel Patrick Boisvert, gaining the support of four of the seven voting members on the nine-member panel but with other panel members saying they were unfamiliar with Mr. Belizaire.

The council also planned to choose a cabinet as it seeks to quell gang violence that is choking the capital, Port-au-Prince, and beyond. Heavy gunfire was reported in several of the capital’s neighbourhoods during the council’s meeting. More than 90,000 people have fled the capital in the span of one month, and overall, more than 360,000 people have been left homeless in recent years as gunmen raze communities in rival territories.

Earlier on Tuesday, the council chose former presidential candidate Edgard Leblanc Fils as the president of the panel.

“This is a very good choice for prime minister,” Mr. Fils said of Mr. Belizaire during a brief speech to nearly two dozen attendees. “The important thing for us is this will, this determination to go beyond divisions, to overcome conflicts and to reach a consensus.”

He said the council met Monday with army and police officials to talk about Haiti’s security crisis and how best to resolve it. “We are publicly recognizing the suffering,” he said of the population.

The announcement of Mr. Belizaire was unexpected. A murmur rose through the attendees as officials announced that four council members with voting powers had selected Mr. Belizaire as Prime Minister.

Leslie Voltaire, one of the voting council members, told the Associated Press, “I don’t know him,” when asked whether he supported Mr. Belizaire.

Mr. Belizaire served as Haiti’s sports minister during the second presidency of Rene Preval from 2006 to 2011. “He’s kind of an unknown figure,” said Robert Fatton, a Haitian politics expert at the University of Virginia. “He doesn’t seem to have his own constituency. Maybe that made him the likely prime minister so different parties can accept him as prime minister.”

Council member Louis Gerald Gilles, who supported Mr. Belizaire, told the Associated Press that the council wanted to act quickly in choosing a prime minister. “The Haitian population can no longer wait,” he said. “The security issue is essential for societal calm.”

Haitians survey damage in Port-au-Prince on Apr. 21; days later, people get on a bus out of town. More than 90,000 people have fled the capital within a month. Goran Tomasevic/The Globe and Mail
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Delmas, once a bustling commercial hub, is badly damaged after recent fighting.Goran Tomasevic/The Globe and Mail

Hours later, many ordinary Haitians remained in the dark.

“They chose a new prime minister?” Jean-Paul Eliason said as he shuffled through the streets of Port-au-Prince ringing a bell to advertise his shoe-shining business.

When told of Mr. Belizaire, 70-year-old Mr. Eliason said his name sounded familiar.

“It’s good news because maybe the country can embark on the right path,” he said. “Security, that’s priority. People are fleeing and gangs are burning their homes.”

Sony Duvert, who leaned against his motorcycle parked near a makeshift barrier aimed at protecting his neighbourhood from gangs, said he had never heard of the new prime minister and that he hoped he would make Haiti safer.

“Every day, we post here like soldiers,” he said. “I would love to see a big change for Haiti.”

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Edgard Leblanc Fils is the new president of the transitional council steering Haiti for the next two years.CLARENS SIFFROY/AFP via Getty Images

After the brief announcement, which was made nearly two hours after the event was supposed to start, the council went behind closed doors again to talk about their choices for cabinet. Mr. Voltaire, however, said he didn’t expect the council to announce cabinet selections on Tuesday.

The majority supporting Mr. Belizaire included Mr. Fils, the council’s new president, Smith Augustin, Mr. Gilles and Emmanuel Vertilaire.

Mr. Fatton called them an “unlikely” alliance: “We’ll see if it can last.”

Mr. Fils represents the Jan. 30 political group, which is made up of parties including PHTK, whose members include former president Michel Martelly and slain president Jovenel Moise. Meanwhile, Mr. Augustin represents the EDE/RED political party, founded by former prime minister Claude Joseph.

Mr. Gilles represents the Dec. 21 agreement, which is associated with former prime minister Ariel Henry, who resigned weeks after the gang attacks began. Meanwhile, Mr. Vertilaire is linked to the Pitit Desalin party, which is led by powerful politician Jean-Charles Moise, who celebrated Tuesday’s announcement.

“He is someone very important in the country,” Mr. Moise said of Mr. Belizaire. “He knows the state pretty well – he knows how to govern.”

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After months of upheaval, many in Port-au-Prince are unsure whether a transitional government will succeed in restoring peace.Ricardo Arduengo/Reuters

The transitional council will act as the country’s presidency until it can arrange a presidential election some time before it disbands, which must be by February, 2026.

Haitians remain divided over whether they believe a transitional government can help calm a troubled country whose capital has been under siege since gangs launched co-ordinated attacks on Feb. 29.

Gang members have burned police stations, opened fire on the main international airport that remains closed since early March and broke into Haiti’s two biggest prisons, releasing more than 4,000 inmates. The country’s biggest seaport also remains largely paralyzed by gang violence.

But one thing is certain: Haitians want security.

“Haitians are very impatient now. They want to see results,” Mr. Fatton said.

The council is expected to support the UN-backed deployment of a Kenyan police force to help fight gangs, although it’s unclear when that might happen.

Mr. Henry, the former prime minister, was on an official trip to the East African country when the co-ordinated gang attacks began, and he remains locked out of Haiti. He submitted his resignation last week.

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