8 Jul 2021

Haiti's president Jovenel Moïse killed in attack at home

6:42 am on 8 July 2021

Haiti's President Jovenel Moïse has been killed and his wife injured in an attack on their home in the nation's capital, Port-au-Prince.

This picture of President of Haiti Jovenel Moïse (R) and first lady Martine Moïse (L) was taken last year for the official ceremony of Haiti's 10th earthquake anniversary in Port-au-Prince.

President of Haiti Jovenel Moïse, right, with first lady Martine Moïse at the official ceremony of Haiti's 10th earthquake anniversary in Port-au-Prince last year. Photo: AFP

Unidentified gunmen stormed the property at 1am local time, interim prime minister Claude Joseph said.

He has called for calm and declared a state of emergency nationwide.

Moïse had led Haiti, one of the poorest nations in the world, since 2017 but had faced widespread protests demanding his resignation.

The nation's recent history has been plagued by coups, political instability and widespread gang violence.

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson tweeted that he was saddened at the death of Moïse, calling it "an abhorrent act" and appealing for calm. US President Joe Biden offered condolences to the people of Haiti for the "horrific assassination".

Who will take control?

Joseph called the shooting of the president a "heinous, inhuman and barbaric act", saying the attackers were "foreigners who spoke English and Spanish". Haiti's official languages are Creole and French.

Some reports spoke of men dressed in black carrying high-powered weapons who may have pretended to be part of a US drug enforcement operation, but no official details have been given.

Addressing the nation, Joseph vowed the killers would be brought to justice and said the security situation was "under control".

The state of emergency, or "state of siege", allows for the banning of gatherings and use of the military for police roles, along with other extensions of executive powers.

Joseph said that "all measures have been taken to ensure continuity" and that "democracy and the republic will win".

But questions remain about how much control Joseph can assert.

Haiti's constitution says ministers, under the leadership of the prime minister, take control in the event of presidential vacancy, until elections can be called.

But that also remains unclear, as a new prime minister, Ariel Henry, had been named by Moïse just this week but has yet to be sworn in.

The streets of the capital appeared to be largely empty on Wednesday morning.

The neighbouring Dominican Republic ordered the "immediate closure" of its border with Haiti.

First Lady Martine Moïse is being treated in hospital.

According to Reuters, Haiti's ambassador to the US, Bocchit Edmond, said the first lady was in a critical condition and attempts were being made to transfer her to Miami.

Ruling by decree

Jovenel Moïse, 53, had been in power since February 2017.

His time in office was rocky as he faced accusations of corruption and there were widespread demonstrations in the capital and other cities earlier this year.

Haiti's opposition said that Moïse's five-year term should have ended on 7 February 2021, five years to the day since his predecessor, Michel Martelly, stepped down.

But there had been a year's delay to elections after Martelly's departure, and Moïse insisted he had one more year to serve as he did not take office until 7 February 2017.

Parliamentary elections should have been held in October 2019 but disputes have delayed them, meaning Moïse had been ruling by decree.

In February this year, on the day the opposition wanted him to leave office, Moïse said an attempt to kill him and overthrow the government had been foiled.

Haiti has also faced a wave of recent gang violence and kidnappings, particularly in the capital, with a number of its districts becoming no-go areas.

The worsening living standards in the nation of 11 million people have pushed nearly 60 percent below the poverty line.

An earthquake in 2010 killed more than 200,000 people and caused extensive damage to the infrastructure and the economy.

A UN peacekeeping force was put in place in 2004 to help stabilise the country, and only withdrew in 2017, but the turmoil has shown no sign of ending.


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