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Negotiations lasted for a fourth day, demanding the return of 17 members of a US-based missionary group kidnapped over the weekend by a violent gang that is demanding a $1 million ransom per person.

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A top Haitian official said on Tuesday that the group included five children ranging in age from 8 months to 15 years, although it was not clear to the authorities whether they were included in the ransom. Among the kidnappers are 16 Americans and one Canadian.

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The kidnapping is one of at least 119 kidnappings recorded in Haiti in the first half of October, according to the Center for Analysis and Research of Human Rights, a local non-profit group. It said a Haitian driver was kidnapped along with the missionaries, bringing the total taken by the gang to 18.

The Haitian official, who was not authorized to speak to the press, told The Associated Press that someone from the 400 Mawzo gang called a leader of the Ohio-based Christian Aid Ministries and demanded a ransom on Saturday, shortly after the kidnapping.

“This group of workers is committed to minister in poverty-stricken Haiti,” said the Ohio group, as missionaries recently worked on a project that found homes lost in a magnitude 7.2 earthquake that struck southwestern Haiti in August. to help rebuild it. 14.

The organization said the group was returning from an orphanage when it was abducted.

People ride motorcycles in the back of a police car following a call for a general strike launched by several professional associations and companies to condemn insecurity in Port-au-Prince on October 18, 2021. (Photo via Richard Pierin/AFP Getty Images)

In response to the recent wave of kidnappings, workers went on a protest strike, which closed businesses, schools and public transport from Monday. The work halt was a new blow to Haiti’s weak economy. Unions and other groups pledged to continue the bandh indefinitely.

In a peaceful demonstration north of Port-au-Prince on Tuesday, dozens of people took to the streets of Titanian demanding the release of missionaries. Some called “Free the Americans” and “No to Kidnapping!” As indicated. and explained that the missionaries helped pay the bills and build roads and schools.

“They do a lot for us,” Beatrice Jean said.

Meanwhile, the country’s fuel shortage worsened, with businesses blaming gangs for blocking roads and gas distribution terminals.

Hundreds of motorcycles lined the streets of Port-au-Prince on Tuesday as drivers shouted, “If there’s no fuel, we’ll burn it!”

A protest took place near the prime minister’s residence, where police fired tear gas to disperse a crowd demanding fuel.

In Washington, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said Tuesday that the FBI was “part of a coordinated US government effort” to free the missionaries. The US Embassy in Port-au-Prince was coordinating with local authorities and the families of the hostages.

“We know that these groups target US citizens who have the resources and finances to pay the ransom, even if they do not,” said Saki, urging US citizens not to travel to Haiti. .

The US policy of not negotiating with hostage-takers has been in place for a long time, and Saki declined to discuss the details of the operation.

related: Haiti kidnapping: US demands release of 17 missionaries kidnapped by gang

The kidnapping was the biggest of its kind in recent years. Haitian gangs become more brazen as the country tries to recover Assassination of President Jovenel Mosse on 7 July and an earthquake that killed more than 2,200 people.

Christian aid ministries said the kidnapped group included six women, six men and five children. A sign on the door of the organization’s headquarters in Berlin, Ohio, said it was closed due to a kidnapping situation.

Marcus Yoder, executive director of the Amish and Mennonite Heritage Center in nearby Millersburg, Ohio, said news of the abduction spread rapidly in and around Holmes County, Ohio, which is home to the largest population of Amish and Orthodox Mennonites in the United States.

Christian aid ministries are supported by Orthodox Mennonites, Amish and related groups that are part of the Anabaptist tradition.

Steven Nolt, a professor of history and Anabaptist studies at Elizabethtown College in Pennsylvania, said the organization was founded in the early 1980s and began operating in Haiti at the end of that decade. The group has year-round mission staff in Haiti and several countries, he said, and it supplies religious, school and medical supplies around the world.

related: Haiti earthquake devastation captured in satellite images before and after

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Coto reported from San Juan, Puerto Rico. Associated Press journalists Matias Delacroix in Port-au-Prince, Matthew Lee in Washington, Pete Smith in Pittsburgh, John Seaver in Toledo, Ohio and Julie Carr Smith in Berlin, Ohio contributed to this report.