The president of Haiti, Jovenel Moïse, has been assassinated in his home by a group of armed men who also seriously injured his wife, according to a statement and comments made by the country’s interim prime minister.
Speaking on a local radio station, acting president Claude Joseph confirmed that Moïse, 53, had been killed, saying the attack was carried out by an “armed commando group” that included foreigners.
“These were mercenaries,” a high-ranking Haitian government official said.
Residents also reported hearing gunshots and seeing men dressed in black running through the neighbourhood.
The attack took place at Moïse’s house in the Pelerin 5 district of Pétionville, a wealthy area with sometimes substantial and leafy villas in the hills above the capital, Port-au-Prince, with a reputation for being safe. It is an area critics of Moïse said he was loth to leave.
According to the guardian, the assassination is likely to plunge the impoverished Caribbean nation into further turmoil after several years marked by political unrest and violence. The US embassy said it would be closed on Wednesday owing to the “ongoing security situation”, and the White House said Joe Biden was due to be briefed on the attack.
Moïse’s time in office had been marked by an increase in political instability, allegations of corruption and a long-running dispute about when his period in office should end. He had been ruling by decree for more than a year after the country failed to hold legislative elections and wanted to push through controversial constitutional changes.
There have been intermittent periods of protests and street violence and a rise in gang violence, some of it tied to political parties.
Haiti’s opposition claims Moïse should have stepped down on 7 February to coincide with the fifth anniversary of 2015 elections that were cancelled and then re-run a year later because of allegations of fraud. They allege that because Moïse failed to hold legislative elections in 2019 he violated the country’s 1987 constitution. His supporters rejected that argument, saying he only took power in 2017 after winning the re-run.
Haiti is the world’s first black republic after its revolution against French rule that lasted from 21 Aug 1791 – 1 Jan 1804. The country has a history marked by poverty, authoritarian rule, political instability and external interference including a long US occupation. It has struggled to rebuild since a devastating earthquake in 2010 and Hurricane Matthew in 2016.