Haitian President Jovenel Moïse has been assassinated and his wife wounded by a squad of unidentified gunmen during a raid on his private residence.
- Mr Moïse was 53 years old and had been in power since 2017
- Opposition leaders have accused him of seeking to increase his power
- First lady Martine Moïse has been hospitalised
The country’s Interim Prime Minister Claude Joseph announced the news in a statement on Wednesday.
Mr Moïse’s wife, first lady Martine Moïse, had been hospitalised, he said.
“The country’s security situation is under the control of the National Police of Haiti and the Armed Forces of Haiti,” Mr Joseph said in a statement from his office.
“Democracy and the republic will win.”
Haiti’s ambassador to the United States, Bocchit Edmond, told Reuters the gunmen falsely identified themselves as agents from the US Drug Enforcement Administration, citing video footage the government has in its possession but added: “No way they were DEA agents.”
The attack “was carried out by foreign mercenaries and professional killers — well-orchestrated”, Mr Edmond said in Washington.
The first lady was in stable but critical condition and efforts were underway to move her to Miami for treatment, he said.
The DEA has an office in the Haitian capital to assist the government in counternarcotics programs, according to the US Embassy.
However, State Department spokesman Ned Price said reports the attackers were DEA agents were “absolutely false”.
Mr Price told a daily press briefing he had no updates to announce in terms of assistance, although Washington was prepared to respond to requests and “ready and willing” to support Haitian authorities’ investigation.
In the early morning hours of Wednesday, the streets were largely empty in the Caribbean nation’s capital of Port-au-Prince, but some people ransacked businesses in one area.
Mr Joseph said police have been deployed to the National Palace and the upscale community of Pétionville and will be sent to other areas.
Mr Joseph condemned what he called a “hateful, inhumane and barbaric act,” adding that Haiti’s National Police and other authorities had the situation in the Caribbean country under control.
He said the gunmen spoke Spanish or English and were highly trained and heavily armed.
President Luis Abinader of the neighbouring Dominican Republic met his top military and police commanders to discuss plans to reinforce security along the border with Haiti following the assassination.
Other world leaders joined Mr Joseph in his condemnation of the assassination, with US President Joe Biden leading the way.
“The United States offers condolences to the people of Haiti and we stand ready to assist as we continue to work for a safe and secure Haiti.”
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson tweeted that he was “shocked and saddened at the death of President Moïse”.
“Our condolences are with his family and the people of Haiti,” he added.
“This is an abhorrent act and I call for calm at this time.”
United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called for those responsible to be brought to justice.
The nation of more than 11 million people had grown increasingly unstable and disgruntled under Mr Moïse’s rule.
Haiti: A nation divided
Haiti’s economic, political and social woes have deepened, with gang violence spiking heavily in Port-au-Prince, inflation spiralling and food and fuel becoming scarcer at times in a country where 60 per cent of the population makes less than $3 a day.
Mr Moïse, 53, had been ruling by decree for more than two years after the country failed to hold elections, which led to Parliament being dissolved.
Opposition leaders have accused Mr Moïse of seeking to increase his power, including approving a decree that limited the powers of a court that audits government contracts and another that created an intelligence agency that answers only to the president.
In recent months, Opposition leaders demanded he step down, arguing that his term legally ended in February 2021.
Mr Moïse and supporters maintained that his term began when he took office in early 2017, following a chaotic election that forced the appointment of a provisional president to serve during a year-long gap.
Haiti was scheduled to hold general elections later this year.