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Haitian police say they’ve killed 4 suspected assailants and arrested 2 others after president assassinated

Haitian President Jovenel Moise was assassinated in an attack on his private residence. His wife, First Lady Martine Moise, was also shot and has been hospitalized.

Haitian President Jovenel Moise was assassinated and his wife wounded during an armed attack in the early hours Wednesday at their private residence above the hills of Port-au-Prince, plunging the Caribbean nation, already in the throes of a political crisis, into fresh uncertainty about its leadership.

Acting Prime Minister Claude Joseph, who first told his fellow Haitians about the president’s assassination, said he is in charge and that the country is now under martial law.

He also sought to reassure the international community that he’s in control, meeting with their representatives in the capital of Port-au-Prince as the U.S. appealed for calm and said it still hopes to see long overdue elections held this year for Parliament, local offices and the presidency.

Late Wednesday, Leon Charles, the interim Haitian national police chief, announced that police had encircled the killers and were engaged in a gun battle. He said police killed four of the suspected assailants, whom he referred to as “mercenaries” and “assassins,” and arrested two others.

“At the moment I am speaking to you now, the police [are] engaged in a battle,” he said, adding that the national police are “determined to do their job” of protecting the population.

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In a statement earlier in the day, Joseph said the attack occurred around 1 a.m. Wednesday, and some of the unidentified assailants spoke Spanish. The head of state, the statement said, was “fatally injured.”

First Lady Martine Moise, who was wounded in the attack, was flown Wednesday afternoon to Miami and taken to Jackson Health System’s Ryder Trauma Center.

Until now, the U.S., along with international partners, has backed Haitian President Jovenel Moise’s claim to his extra year of rule.

Hours after the assassination, Joseph declared martial law throughout Haiti, issuing an executive order.

In a news conference, Joseph said that as head of the government “who is still in function,” he and other members of the government held a special meeting of Haiti’s security apparatus and decided to “declare a state of siege throughout the entire country.”

The assailants apparently claimed to be agents with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, according to videos taken by people in the area of the president’s home. Moise, 53, lived in Pelerin 5, a neighborhood just above the hills in the capital.

On the videos, someone with an American accent is heard yelling in English over a megaphone, “DEA operation. Everybody stand down. DEA operation. Everybody back up, stand down.”

Sources told the Miami Herald that the assailants were not with the DEA.

“These were mercenaries,” a high-ranking Haitian government official said.

Biden administration officials denied DEA involvement. A State Department official called the claim “absolutely false.”

Moise was being protected by his own personal guards, who are part of a specialized unit of the Haitian National Police assigned to the presidential palace. But sources say there have always been concerns about his security being inadequate. In August the head of the Port-au-Prince Bar Assn., Monferrier Dorval, was gunned down near the president’s private residence. No one has been charged with the killing.

During Wednesday morning’s assault, Pelerin residents reported hearing high-powered rounds fired with precision and seeing men dressed in black running through the neighborhoods. There were also reports of a grenade going off and drones being used.

The president’s death will throw Haiti into further disarray. Since coming into office in 2017, Moise had faced mounting protests over his governance amid a deepening political and constitutional crisis, questions about his legitimacy and accusations that he used armed gangs to remain in power. He also was accused of corruption as part of a far-reaching report into how multiple Haitian governments spent nearly $2 billion in aid from Venezuela’s PetroCaribe program.

The amended constitution of Haiti says that in the event of a presidential vacancy in the fourth year of the term, the National Assembly has to meet within 60 days to elect a new provisional president for the remainder of the term.

But there is no parliament in Haiti to form a National Assembly.

“There is no constitutional answer to this situation,” said Bernard Gousse, a former justice minister and legal expert.

There are only 10 elected officials in the country, all senators. Joseph, the current interim prime minister, has not been ratified by the country’s parliament and has resigned. The new prime minister Moise appointed this week, Ariel Henry, has yet to be sworn in. There isn’t even a president of the Supreme Court: René Sylvestre, the president, died last week from COVID-19 and the oldest member of the court currently heads a shadow government put in place earlier this year by the opposition.

In a possible power play, some Haitian government critics are discussing installing Joseph Lambert, the head of the 10-member Senate, as provisional president.

This is not the first time a president of Haiti has been assassinated in office. In 1915, President Vilbrun Guillaume Sam, was murdered. Although this is a different era, Haiti, the first free republic founded by former slaves, is in the midst of several crises: violent armed gangs, rising hunger and child malnutrition, and economic disarray.

“The future is totally uncertain,” said Robert Fatton, a Haiti-born longtime political scientist at the University of Virginia. “Without a local solution involving a government of national unity there is a real danger that the country could descend into chaos.

“The question is whether the opposition and the government are prepared to compromise,” Fatton added. “Without this compromise the door to a possible U.N. intervention will open.”

Haitians awoke to the news Wednesday morning in shock. Streets in the capital, normally teeming with vehicles and public buses, were empty and void of traffic. The country’s main airport, Toussaint Louverture International Airport, was closed except for diplomatic and humanitarian flights, airport director general Irving Mehu said.

The road leading to the entrance of the neighborhood of Pelerin, where the president’s residence is located, was blocked off.

In his statement, Joseph condemned what he described as an “odious, inhuman and barbaric act,” and he has called a special security meeting. He called on Haitians to remain calm.

“The security situation in the country is under the control of the Haitian National Police and the Haitian Armed Forces,” the statement said.


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