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A protest strike dealt a new blow to Haiti’s weakening economy closed businesses, schools and public transport, and unions and other groups in anger over worsening crime vowed to continue the shutdown on Tuesday as authorities closed one of 17 Tried to rescue the kidnapped members. webased missionary group.

FBI agents and other US officials are helping Haitian authorities search for 12 adults and five children linked to Christian aid ministries in Ohio who were abducted Saturday during a visit to an orphanage.

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It is the largest kidnapping of its kind in recent years, with Haitian gangs becoming more brazen and kidnappings growing as the country tries to recover from the July 7 assassination of President Jovanel Mosse and the August 7.2 earthquake in southern Haiti. 14 and killed more than 2,200 people.

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Haiti kidnapping: US missionary group says Christians must ‘conquer evil with good’

“We are calling on the authorities to take action,” said Jean-Louis Abaki, a moto taxi driver who joined the strike on Monday to stop the killings and kidnappings in the poorest country in the hemisphere.

With the usually chaotic streets of Haiti’s capital quiet and largely empty, Abaki said that if Prime Minister Ariel Henry and National Police Chief Leon Charles want to remain in power, “they have to give the population a chance of safety.” ”

Haitian police told The Associated Press that 16 Americans and one Canadian were abducted by the 400 Mawzo Gang, a group with long records of murders, kidnappings and extortion. In April, a man claiming to be the gang leader told a radio station that he was responsible for the kidnapping of five priests, two nuns and three relatives of a priest that month. They were later released.

A report last month by the United Nations Unified Office in Haiti said at least 328 kidnappings were reported to Haiti’s national police in the first eight months of 2021, compared to a total of 234 kidnappings in 2020.

The gang has been accused of kidnapping schoolchildren, doctors, police officers, bus passengers and others as they become more powerful and demanding ransoms ranging from a few hundred dollars to millions of dollars.

US State Department spokesman Ned Price said US officials are in constant contact with Haiti’s national police, missionary groups and relatives of the victims.

“This is something that we have considered with the highest priority since Saturday,” he said, adding that officials are “doing everything possible to find a quick solution.”

UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said the escalation in mass violence affected relief efforts in Haiti. He said the UN resident and humanitarian coordinator pointed out that “violence, looting, road blockades and the frequent presence of armed gangs hinder human access. The situation is further complicated by very serious fuel shortages and short supplies of goods.” Is.”

Dujarric said Haiti’s government should redouble efforts to reform and strengthen the police department to address public safety and investigate all crimes.

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

Haiti kidnapping: US missionaries, children held captive, prompt a strike

Young people play soccer next to businesses closed by a general strike in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, on Monday.

Among those abducted were four children from a Michigan family and one of their parents, their pastor told The Detroit News. The youngest in the family is under the age of 10, said Minister Ron Marks, who declined to be identified. They arrived in Haiti earlier this month, he said.

A couple of traveling Christians were stopped by the organization’s headquarters on Monday to drop off packages for poor countries with two young children. Tirtaja Rarik, originally from California, said she and a friend prayed on Sunday with people who had relatives among those abducted.

“While it is painful and it drives us to tears that our friends and relatives, our dear brothers and sisters, are suffering in very real physical, mental and emotional ways right now, it is comforting to us that we are in these heavy can bring burdens. For the God that we worship,” she said.

Marcus Yoder, executive director of the Amish and Mennonite Heritage Center in nearby Millersburg, Ohio, said news of the kidnapping spread quickly in and around Holmes County, Ohio, which is home to the nation’s largest population of Amish and Orthodox Mennonites. .

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

Steven Nolt, 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 after 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.

Police clear a road erected by protesters in Haiti's Port-au-Prince on Monday.

Conservative Anabaptists, despite disagreeing on technology and other issues, share traditions such as normal, plain clothing, isolation from mainstream society, closely disciplined congregations and a belief in non-resistance to violence.

The Amish and Mennonite communities in Holmes County have close links with missionary organizations serving Haiti.

Every September, handmade furniture, quilts, firewood and tools are sold at the Ohio Haiti Benefit Auction, and barbecue chicken and Haitian beans and rice are prepared. One of the organisers, Aaron Miller, said the event typically brings in about $600,000 which is divided among 18 missionary groups.