Four suspects have been killed and two others arrested after the assassination of Haitian President Jovenel Moise, police said Wednesday evening.
Three police officers were temporarily captured but have since been released, police chief Leon Charles said in a TV broadcast.
Further details on the manhunt for the assailants were not made public.
Moise was killed in the early hours of Wednesday in a middle-of-the-night attack on his residence near the capital Port-au-Prince.
A group of unidentified people, some speaking Spanish and English, attacked the home and shot Moise dead.
His wife Martine was injured and has been taken to the U.S. city of Miami for treatment, Haiti’s ambassador to the U.S. Bocchit Edmond told international media.
Haiti’s embassy in Washington described Moise’s killing as a “well-coordinated attack by a highly trained and heavily armed group.”
The embassy called the 53-year-old president, who critics derided as an autocrat, a “true statesman … dedicated to progressing our country’s democratic transition and fighting corruption.” It said he had “died in defence of democracy.”
Local media reported that assailants had posed as officers of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). Reports of DEA involvement were “absolutely false,” U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price said.
Haiti has been mired in a deep political crisis for years, with protests against Moise’s rule repeatedly paralysing the country.
He had been ruling the country by decree since his administration failed to hold legislative elections in October 2019.
Haiti has not had a parliament since the start of the new legislative period in January 2020.
It was not immediately clear who would succeed Moise as president, or who was calling the shots in the country.
In a sign of the political chaos even before the assassination, this Monday Moise had appointed Ariel Henry as the seventh prime minister of his term – succeeding Claude Joseph.
But, like Joseph before him, Henry could not be confirmed as head of government due to a lack of quorum in parliament, as Haiti’s constitution requires.
Joseph has identified himself as acting or interim prime minister.
He is also the country’s foreign affairs minister.
Joseph earlier condemned the assassination as a “hateful, inhumane and barbaric act” and said security forces had the situation under control and appealed to Haitians to remain calm.
“Democracy and the republic will win,” he said.
The Haitian government declared a 15-day state of siege as well as 15 days of mourning, with Joseph signing decrees for both on Wednesday.
The state of siege allows the government to use the military for police duties and restrict civil liberties.
Presidential and parliamentary elections, as well as a constitutional referendum, are scheduled for September 26 in the Caribbean state.
Haiti is considered the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere and is still living with the impact of the catastrophic 2010 earthquake that left some 200,000 people dead.
Moise’s killing drew condemnation from around the world and worries about the island’s stability.
In a statement, U.S. President Joe Biden condemned the “heinous” act, offered his “sincere wishes for First Lady Moise’s recovery” and offered Washington’s support to Haiti.
Joseph spoke with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Wednesday, both sides announced.
Joseph promised he would have a dialogue with Haitian opposition leaders to maintain peace and to make sure the elections are held according to the agreed timetable.
He also met with what is known as the Core Group of the international community in Haiti, including Germany’s ambassador, Joseph’s office said.
He assured them that through his leadership of the council of ministers, he could guarantee the state would continue to function and that he had the situation under control, his office said in a statement.
Fighting by gangs for control of parts of the capital Port-au-Prince has driven almost 15,000 people to flee since the beginning of June, according to UN figures.
It is an open secret in the former French colony that the gangs have ties to politicians.
Violence also repeatedly emanates from security forces.
Moise was not the first Haitian head of state to be killed in office.
The first ruler of the independent country after the revolution of self-liberated slaves, Jean-Jacques Dessalines, met the same fate in 1806.
Some 4.4 million Haitians, of the population of 11 million, are in need of humanitarian aid.
Furthermore, the number of cases of the coronavirus and deaths has also increased significantly. (dpa/NAN)
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