A man runs with a machete in his hand down a street in the Solino district of the Haitian capital Port-au-Prince, January 18, 2024. AFP

A deadly, days-long clash between armed gangs intensified Thursday in Haiti's capital Port-au-Prince, as elsewhere demonstrators marched demanding accountability for the Caribbean nation's spiraling security crisis.

Bursts of automatic weapons were heard at dawn in the Solino district in the south of Port-au-Prince, with columns of smoke rising into the sky, according to an AFP correspondent.

Gang members operating in neighboring Bel-Air have been fighting in the area since Sunday, a local resident told AFP.

Witnesses confirmed that some people had been killed, without being able to specify the number. According to Pierre Esperance, director of the National Human Rights Defense Network, a humanitarian organization, at least 20 people have been killed since Sunday.

"Among the victims are those who were murdered inside their burnt-out homes, and others who were shot at by bandits as they tried to flee the attacks," he said.

Neighboring districts such as Carrefour Pean and Delmas 24 have also been targeted by gang attacks. To protect themselves, residents erected barricades all over the capital and surrounding areas.

At the same time, anti-government demonstrations took place across Haiti in response to a call from Guy Philippe, a former Haitian police chief and politician, who has returned to the country after serving a prison sentence in the United States for money laundering linked to drug trafficking.

Since the beginning of the week, hundreds of people have been demonstrating in Jeremie, Miragoane and Ouanaminthe, demanding the resignation of Prime Minister Ariel Henry, who has been in power since the assassination of President Jovenel Moise in 2021.

The demonstrators slammed his inaction as the country has been ravaged by a profound economic, security and political crisis that has fueled armed criminal gangs.

Last year, the UN estimated that the gangs controlled around 80 percent of the capital. The UN Security Council agreed in October to send a multinational mission to Haiti, led by Kenya, to assist the Haitian police, though it could take months yet to arrive.