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Canada begins evacuating vulnerable citizens from Haiti

Gunfire near Haiti's National Palace, in Port-au-Prince

OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canada on Monday began evacuating from Haiti Canadians who want to leave as gang violence spreads, prioritizing those who are vulnerable, Foreign Minister Melanie Joly said.

Foreign departures from Haiti have picked up recently as the country's political future hangs in limbo, with armed gangs expanding their control over the capital and further afield.

The conflict has killed thousands and displaced hundreds of thousands. A wave of attacks this month has included raids on police stations and the international airport, which has led to the suspension of commercial flights.

"We know that the security situation has deteriorated in recent weeks, and those who wish to leave are unable to do so because of the security situation at the airport in Port-au-Prince," Joly told reporters at a briefing.

Canada will initially be facilitating travel to the Dominican Republic - which shares the island of Hispaniola with Haiti - for vulnerable Canadians, such as those who need medical attention or those with children, Joly told reporters in Ottawa.

Around 30 Canadians who are "travel ready" with the necessary documents have so far come forward to leave, authorities said.

The Canadian government was working on other departure options for family members of citizens and permanent residents, Joly said.

The U.S. began evacuating its citizens from Haiti via helicopter last week.

The U.S. State Department said it had scheduled three helicopter evacuation flights from Haiti on Monday, with four more planned for Tuesday.

Washington had facilitated the safe departure of over 340 U.S. citizens out of Haiti since March 17 and is exploring other alternatives to evacuate American citizens, U.S. State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller told reporters.

(Reporting by Ismail Shakil in Ottawa, Daphne Psaledakis and Humeyra Pamuk in Washington and David Alire in Mexico City; Editing by Rosalba O'Brien)