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A man fills the tank of a motorcycle at a petrol station as violence spreads and armed gangs expand their control over Haiti's capital, Port-au-Prince, on March 29.Ralph Tedy Erol/Reuters

Panic set in around downtown Port-au-Prince on Monday as wild shooting filled the streets of Haiti’s capital, with heavy gunfire approaching the national palace.

Reuters saw civilians rush to escape gunfire in the capital, where rival gangs are vying for control of turf while the state remains largely absent, three weeks after Prime Minister Ariel Henry announced his resignation with no successors in place.

Gunmen seized an armoured vehicle from palace guards in the centre of the city. Meanwhile, four more people were found dead on Monday in the capital’s relatively upscale Petion-Ville suburb, which has been threatened by gangs.

At least one other person was shot dead amid fighting in the capital’s Delmas district. Media also reported a large industrial park had been set on fire three days before.

The new U.S. ambassador to Haiti, Dennis Hankins, arrived in the country on Monday, as the United States and other nations continue evacuating their citizens and bolstering their borders against migrants.

Haiti has been facing a worsening conflict with alliances of gangs vying for control of parts of the capital and attacks on the airport and main port blocking access to key goods.

The prime minister announced his resignation on March 11 pending the installation of a presidential council and interim replacement, but the process has been hampered by threats, factional infighting and resignations.

Though the council, proposed by regional leaders meeting in Jamaica, was set to be formalized within two days of his announcement, this has yet to take place, prompting calls for an alternate method of transition.

Jamaica’s military reported over the weekend that troops had arrived from the Bahamas and Belize to participate in a training exercise known as Trogon Shield with Canada, which had earlier said its soldiers would over the course of a month train some 330 Caribbean troops in preparation for deployment to Haiti.

Henry called in 2022 for an international security force to bolster Haiti’s under-gunned police force, but despite the United Nations ratifying the force six months ago progress has been sluggish.

Over 1,500 people were killed in the first three months of 2024 and around 60 lynched by vigilante groups operating where police presence is lacking, according to a UN report last week.

The report warned of the ongoing recruitment of children into gangs and called for more efforts to stop the flow of firearms, largely from the United States, into the Caribbean country.

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