Marines Send More Embassy Guards to Haiti as Riots Turn Deadly

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A police officer looks on as a crowd enters the Delimart supermarket complex, which had been burned during two days of protests against a planned hike in fuel prices in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Sunday, July 8, 2018. (AP Photo/Dieu Nalio Chery) -- The Associated Press

A squad-sized Marine security detachment has arrived in Haiti to bolster security at the U.S. embassy there as protests over an unpopular fuel price hike turned violent.

Thirteen members of the Marine Security Augmentation Unit are in place at the embassy, a U.S. defense official said. Members of the Quantico, Virginia-based unit are trained Marine security guards who can reinforce U.S. embassies facing threats.

An undisclosed number of non-uniformed security personnel were also dispatched to the U.S. embassy in Port-au-Prince, the defense official said.

CNN first reported that the Marines 'presence had been requested by diplomats on the ground. Members of Marine Security Augmentation Units can respond directly to calls from an ambassador, chief of mission or regional security officer at an embassy in trouble.

A State Department official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the safety and security of Americans are among their highest priorities.

"Local law enforcement and U.S. embassy security authorities will take appropriate measures to safeguard personnel and visitors," the official said.

The State Department issued a notice Monday warning Americans not to travel to Haiti. Widespread civil unrest and violent demonstrations broke out there after Prime Minister Jack Guy Lafontant announced that gasoline, diesel and kerosene prices would jump by up to 51 percent.

The Associated Press reported that three people had been killed Friday as protesters used burning tires and barricades to block major streets. The fuel price hike was suspended on Saturday, but unrest continued.

"On July 9, 2018, the U.S. government authorized the voluntary departure of non-emergency U.S. government personnel and their families," the State Department warning reads. "Right now, the U.S. government has limited ability to provide emergency services to U.S. citizens."

It's not immediately clear how long the additional Marine security guards will remain at the embassy.

Members of the Marine Security Augmentation Unit were also sent to several American diplomatic facilities in the Middle East following President Donald Trump's decision to move the U.S. embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. They were also dispatched to the U.S. embassy in Paris in 2015 following the coordinated terror attack carried out there by the Islamic State.

--Gina Harkins can be reached at gina.harkins@military.com.Follow her on Twitter at @ginaaharkins.

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