(Photo: AP Photo/Dieu Nalio Chery)
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) — Protesters pitched tents and laid down in the middle of one of the busiest streets in the Haitian capital Monday to protest efforts to remove them from a private lot where they have been living since the January 2010 earthquake.
The approximately 60 to 80 protesters began the peaceful protest in the Delmas section of Port-au-Prince about 6 a.m. local time (7 a.m. EDT; 1100 GMT) after more than a dozen police officers showed up, apparently to evict them from a lot where several hundred people have been living in tents and small shacks.
About a dozen armed police officers looked on and motorists were forced to take alternate routes during the protest, which lasted several hours.
Employees from the mayor's office in Delmas came to the car mechanic lot-turned-quake-survivor camp last week and offered each family $125 to leave, camp leader Jean-Rony Alexis said. But the amount wasn't enough to help them secure housing, he said.
"The mayor's office needs to sit down with us and offer us more money or a place to go," Alexis, 26, said as protesters behind him carried cardboard signs asking for justice for tent dwellers.
Delmas spokesman Saby Ketteny declined to comment.
Haitian officials have stepped up forced removals in recent weeks even though President Michel Martelly has said he is opposed to them.
Two weeks ago, the mayor of Port-au-Prince paid families $250 a piece to leave the National Stadium in downtown Port-au-Prince. Some of the families went to a field along Rue Bicentanaire, a major street that runs alongside the bay.
The soccer arena is among six public spaces from which the Martelly administration wants to relocate 30,000 people and into 16 redeveloped neighborhoods. That's only 5 percent of the displaced population.
The number of people in impromptu settlements was once as high as 1.5 million but the number dropped, in part because of evictions. In dozens of places, from shopping plazas to school yards, property owners have made people move out.
The evictions come as tent-and-tarp shanties begin to swell across the hillsides surrounding Port-au-Prince.
An estimated 630,000 Haitians are still without homes after last year's quake, according to the International Organization for Migration.
The United Nations and rights groups have called for a moratorium on evictions until the government comes up with a better housing solution.