Many arrested as Haiti president alleges coup conspiracy, assassination attempt
Opposition leaders say Jovenel Moise's term ends Sunday and he should resign
Haitian President Jovenel Moise announced Sunday that police have arrested more than 20 people he accused of trying to kill him and overthrow his government, including a Supreme Court judge who has the support of opposition leaders demanding that Moise step down.
Moise spoke at Haiti's airport in Port-au-Prince, flanked by the country's prime minister and the police chief as he prepared to leave for the southern coastal town of Jacmel for the opening ceremony of its yearly carnival, which is being held amid the pandemic.
"There was an attempt on my life," he said.
Moise said the alleged plot began on Nov. 20 but did not provide further details or any evidence except to say among the people arrested is a judge and an inspector general with the police. Moise then said other high-ranking officials would provide more information but they all walked away and did not speak further to reporters.
Prime Minister Joseph Joute said later in the day Sunday that authorities found several weapons and a speech that Supreme Court Judge Yvickel Dabrezil had allegedly prepared if he were to become provisional president. Dabrezil is one of three judges that the opposition favours as a potential transitional president.
Meanwhile, Justice Minister Rockefeller Vincent accused the inspector general of being in touch with high-ranking security officials at the National Palace over an alleged plot to have the president arrested.
Andre Michel, one of Haiti's top opposition leaders, held a press conference hours after the arrests and called for civil disobedience and demanded that Moise be arrested. Michel, an attorney, said it was illegal to arrest Dabrezil because he has automatic immunity.
Reynold Georges, an attorney who once worked as a consultant for Moise's administration but has since joined the opposition, denounced the arrests in an interview with radio station Zenith FM.
"We ask for his release immediately," he said of Irvikel Dabresil, the Supreme Court judge who is being detained, adding that the court system should shut down until he's free.
Georges also called on people to rise up against Moise.
Also arrested was Police General Inspector Antoinette Gauthier, according to a statement from the Young Bar Association of Port-au-Prince, which accused Moise's administration of sowing terror and said Sunday's actions should not be tolerated.
The arrests come on the day that opposition leaders claim Moise should resign, saying that his term ends on Sunday. Moise has repeatedly stated that his five-year term ends in February 2022. Former President Michel Martelly's term ended in 2016, but a chaotic election forced the appointment of a provisional president for one year until Moise was sworn in in 2017.
The opposition has organized recent protests demanding that Moise step down, and normally congested streets in Haiti's capital and elsewhere remained empty on Sunday as a handful of demonstrators burned tires.
Meanwhile, Moise appears to have the support of the administration of U.S. President Joe Biden. Ned Price, a U.S. State Department spokesperson, said Friday that the U.S. has urged Haiti to organize free and fair elections so that Parliament can resume operations, adding that a new elected president should succeed Moise when his terms ends in February 2022.
Moise is currently ruling by decree after dissolving a majority of Parliament in January 2020 after no legislative elections were held. He is planning an upcoming constitutional referendum in April that critics say could award him more power, while general elections are scheduled for later this year.
After arriving in Jacmel, Moise broadcast an address that lasted more than an hour. He spoke largely about the infrastructure projects that his administration has accomplished, but also called on the opposition to work with him.
"It's not too late," he said, rejecting accusations that he is on his way to becoming a dictator. "I'm not a dictator. Dictators are people who take power and don't know when they're leaving. I know my mandate ends on Feb. 7, 2022."