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Jovenel Moïse murdered: live updates and video

President Jovenel Moïse of Haiti, center, with his wife Martine Moïse in Port-au-Prince in 2019.
Recognition…Valerie Baeriswyl / Agence France-Presse – Getty Images

Haitian President Jovenel Moïse was assassinated in an attack early in the morning in his home on the outskirts of the capital Port-au-Prince, said the interim prime minister held the country for months.

While foreign governments struggled to assess the situation, millions of Haitians anxiously huddled around radios and televisions, staying away from the streets to understand what the coming days might bring.

Mr Moïse’s wife, Martine Moïse, was also shot dead in the attack, the interim Prime Minister Claude Joseph said in a statement. Her condition was not immediately clear.

“A group of strangers, some of whom speak Spanish, attacked the private residence of the President of the Republic, fatally injuring the head of state,” said the prime minister, but little confirmed information was available as to who might have carried out the assassination.

In an interview with the New York Times, Mr. Joseph said that he is the one ruling the country at the moment. However, it was unclear how much control he had or how long it would take. A new prime minister was slated for this week to replace Mr Joseph and the chairman of the nation’s highest court, which could also help maintain order, died of Covid-19 in June.

News of the murder of Mr Moïse rocked the Caribbean island nation 675 miles southeast of Miami. Protesters have taken to the streets in recent months to demand that Mr Moïse be removed. He held onto power and ruled by decree for more than a year, with many – including constitutional scholars and legal experts – claiming his term had expired.

Armed gangs patrol many streets and even kidnap school children and church pastors in the middle of their church services. Poverty and hunger are on the rise, and the government is accused of enriching itself without providing even the most basic services. Now the political vacuum left by the murder of Mr Moïse could fuel a cycle of violence, experts warned.

More than two centuries ago, the country struggled to emerge from one of the most brutal slave colonies in the world, which brought great wealth to France and which the colonial masters fought to maintain.

What began as a slave revolt at the turn of the 18th century ultimately led to the breathtaking defeat of Napoleon’s troops in 1803. More recently, the country has suffered more than two decades of dictatorship from François Duvalier, known as Papa Doc, and then his son Jean-Claude, known as Baby Doc.

A poor local priest, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, became the first democratically elected president in 1990. But in less than a year he was ousted in a coup.

The country has not rebuilt since a devastating earthquake 11 years ago, and many say it is doing worse despite billions of dollars in reconstruction aid.

On Wednesday, Mr. Joseph said the president was “cowardly murdered” but the killers “cannot murder his ideas.” He urged the country to “keep calm” and said he would address the nation later that day.

He said the country’s security situation is under the control of the police and army. But international observers warned that the situation could quickly spiral out of control.

Didier Le Bret, a former French ambassador to Haiti, said he hoped Joseph could rule the country despite its lack of political legitimacy.

He criticized the international community for ignoring the unstable political situation in Haiti and said it should now help the country “ensure a smooth transition”.

Mr Le Bret said the situation in Haiti had become so volatile that “many people had an interest in getting rid of Moïse”.

Harold Isaak, Elian Peltier and Constant Méheut Reporting contributed.

March protests in Port-au-Prince.
Recognition…Valerie Baeriswyl / Agence France-Presse – Getty Images

Jovenal Moïse struggled to quell growing public anger over his attempt to retain power, despite the opposition insisting that his term in office had expired.

Mr Moïse had ruled by decree for more than a year. Many, including prominent lawyers, claim his term ended in February. Haiti has been rocked by protests against its rule and has seen gang activity rise as well.

The opposition said Mr Moïse’s five-year term should have ended on February 7th, five years to the day since his predecessor Michel Martelly resigned. When Mr Moïse refused to leave office, thousands of Haitians took to the streets and set fire to rubbish and tires as they called for his resignation.

In response, the government announced the arrest of 23 people, including a chief judge and a senior police officer, who the president said tried to kill him and overthrow the government.

“The goal of these people was to assassinate my life,” said President Moïse at the time. “This plan has been canceled.”

Mr Moïse insisted that he had one year left in office as his term only started a year after the vote that put him at the top on allegations of electoral fraud.

The protests this year were part of wider riots in which heavily armed gangs clashed in the streets and attacked police stations.

“While the exact numbers are still unclear, preliminary estimates suggest that thousands of people have fled their homes and sought refuge with host families or settled in informal shelters,” the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said last Month in a report on the situation.

Haitians took to the streets in Port-au-Prince in March to protest Jovenel Moïse's new constitution.
Recognition…Jean Marc Herve Abelard / EPA, via Shutterstock

Despite public unrest and weak political support, in the months leading up to the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse, he pursued an aggressive agenda that included a revision of the country’s constitution.

Among the provisions he pushed for was one that granted Haiti’s leaders immunity for all actions during his tenure, leading critics to allege that he posed a threat to democracy and led the country on a course towards authoritarian rule.

“We need a system that works,” said Moïse in a phone interview with the New York Times in March. “The system is not working now. The President cannot work to deliver. “

The US, whose support for Haiti is vital, had asked the country to hold presidential and parliamentary elections as soon as technically possible. It also resisted efforts to draft a new constitution based on the guidelines proposed by Mr Moïse.

Foreign Minister Antony Blinken outlined the tougher stance of the Biden government during a hearing of the House Foreign Affairs Committee in June.

Although many have criticized Mr. Moise’s approach to reshaping the government, many Haitians say that a new constitution is needed.

The current one has created two competing centers of power in the country – the president and the prime minister – which often leads to friction and a fragmented government.

The draft constitution would have abolished the Senate, left a single legislative body elected every five years, and replaced the prime minister’s office with a vice-president who reports to the president to streamline the government.

Haiti has suffered a number of devastating events in recent years, including a devastating 7.0 earthquake in 2010, a major hurricane in 2016, and most recently the coronavirus pandemic. Political unrest in recent months has seen thousands take to the streets demanding the removal of President Jovenel Moïse, who was killed in the early hours of Wednesday.

Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the American Ambassador to the United Nations, at a House Foreign Affairs hearing in Washington last month.
Recognition…Stefani Reynolds for the New York Times

The Foreign Ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the assassination of Haitian President Jovenel Moïse on Wednesday. But last month, US Ambassador to the United Nations, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, told House MPs that “we have not forgotten Haiti and I am determined to continue to work to improve the situation.”

Her remarks at a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing prompted MP Albio Sires, a New Jersey Democrat and chairman of a House committee that oversees policy for the Western Hemisphere, to refer to a meeting with Mr. Moïseï as a “little story” in the last few months.

“Among other things, he told us that he wanted to bring the army back,” said Mr Sires to Ms. Thomas-Greenfield. “You know, we’re giving this island money, money, money for me. You don’t need an army. So if you could tell him that there are other countries without an army that are doing really well … “

“I will,” replied Ms. Thomas-Greenfield.

On Wednesday morning, MP Andy Levin, a committee member who is also co-chair of the Haiti Caucus House, cited the assassination of Mr Moïse “a devastating, if not shocking, example of the extent to which the security situation in Haiti has disintegrated.”

“For months,” he said in a statement, “violent actors had terrorized the Haitian people with impunity, while the international community – including the United States, I fear – has not heeded their calls for a change of course and support for a Haiti-led Democrat reconciliation. “

Leading Republican on the committee, Rep. Michael McCaul, Republican of Texas, condemned the murder of Mr Moïse and the shooting of the President’s wife, Martine Moïse.

“There needs to be a full investigation and adequate accountability for his murder. My condolences to the Moïse family and the people of Haiti, ”McCaul said in a statement.

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