Violence, protests overshadow memorial for slain Haitian president

The body of slain Haitian President Jovenel Moïse was returned to his hometown Friday for a private funeral amid heavy security following violent protests and fears of political volatility in the Caribbean nation.

Supporters demand justice for slain leader Jovenel Moïse outside his funeral on Friday

Police abandon their vehicle during a demonstration that turned violent in which protesters demanded justice for the assassinated President Jovenel Moïse in Cap-Haïtien, Haiti, on Thursday. (Matias Delacroix/The Associated Press)

The body of slain Haitian President Jovenel Moïse was returned to his hometown Friday for a private funeral amid heavy security following violent protests and fears of political volatility in the Caribbean nation.

Martine Moïse arrived to cries of "Justice! Justice!" as she headed straight to her husband's casket, climbing the stairs and stopping in front of it. Her right arm in a sling, she lay her left arm on the casket and then brought it to her heart as she stood there in silence. Her eyes filled with tears as her three children joined her. 

Minutes later, a group of supporters grabbed a large portrait of Moïse and paraded with it as the police band began to play the national anthem over loud wails. 

As the ceremony began, hundreds of protesters clashed with police outside the private residence. Shots erupted and tear gas and black smoke wafted into the heavily guarded ceremony. Protesters' cries carried over religious leaders speaking at the funeral.

Former first lady of Haiti Martine Moïse attends the funeral of her slain husband at his family home in Cap-Haitien on Friday. (Matias Delacroix/The Associated Press)

At the end of the funeral, Martine Moïse spoke publicly for the first time since the attack, her soft voice growing stronger through the 15-minute speech.

"They're watching us, waiting for us to be afraid," she said. "We don't want vengeance or violence. We're not going to be scared."

Two U.S. officials confirmed there was an incident at the event and that the U.S. delegation left early. All members of the U.S. delegation were safe and accounted for and it does not appear they were targeted, according to the officials, who were not authorized to discuss the matter publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.

Yves Paul Leandre, the Haiti Communications Ministry spokesperson, said the U.S. and United Nations delegations left about 10 to 15 minutes after arriving due to hostile words being hurled by protesters outside at everyone arriving. 

Moïse supporters are blocked from attending his funeral outside the former leader's family home as they call for justice in Cap-Haitien Friday, July 23, 2021. (Matias Delacroix/The Associated Press)

Earlier, cries of "Assassin!" filled the air at the arrival of Haiti's National Police Chief Leon Charles. Haitians clad in somber suits, shiny shoes and black and white formal dresses shouted and pointed fingers at the neighbouring seating platforms where Haitian officials and foreign dignitaries sat above at least a dozen men with high-powered weapons.

"You didn't take any measures to save Jovenel! You contributed to his killing!" one woman yelled.

On the grounds below, one Moïse supporter threatened Charles: "You need to leave now or we're going to get you after the funeral!"

'Jovenel died big!'

Newly appointed Prime Minister Ariel Henry arrived after to cries of, "Justice for Jovenel!"

White t-shirts and caps emblazoned with his picture were distributed to supporters the day before what is expected to be the final ceremony to honour Moïse, who was shot several times on July 7 during an attack at his private home that seriously injured his wife.

A man attends Moïse's funeral at Moïse's family home in Cap-Haitien Friday. (Matias Delacroix/The Associated Press)

Moïse's body arrived shortly after dawn at his family's seaside property where the funeral is being held. Six officials carried the brown casket up a stage where they saluted it and stood before it in silence for several minutes before draping a large red and blue Haitian flag over it.

Before the funeral began, a man wrapped himself in a large Haitian flag and approached the casket, crying out, "We need to fight and get justice for Jovenel!" Next to him, a man carrying a t-shirt commemorating Moïse joined in as he yelled, "Jovenel died big! He died for me and for the rest of the country.We're not going to back down."

Mourners gathered at a church in Cap-Haïtien, Haiti, on Thursday, where a memorial service was held for Moïse. (Ricardo Arduengo/Reuters)

The funeral comes days after Henry, with support from key international diplomats, was installed in Haiti — a move that appeared aimed at averting a leadership struggle following Moïse's assassination.

Henry, who was designated prime minister by Moïse before he was slain but never sworn in replaced interim prime minister Claude Joseph, and has promised to form a provisional consensus government until elections are held.

At least 26 arrested over assassination

On Thursday, violent demonstrations hit neighbourhoods in Cap-Haitien as groups of men fired shots into the air and blocked some roads with blazing tires. One heavily guarded police convoy carrying unknown officials drove through one flaming barricade, with a vehicle nearly flipping over.

A priest who presided over a Mass on Thursday morning at Cap-Haitian's cathedral to honor Moïse warned there was too much bloodshed in Haiti as he asked people to find peace, noting that the poorest communities are affected.

A man yells for justice during a memorial service for Moïse inside the Cap-Haïtien church. (Matias Delacroix/The Associated Press)

Moïse was sworn in as Haiti's president in February 2017 and faced increasing criticism in recent years from those who accused him of becoming increasingly authoritarian. He had been ruling by decree for more than a year after the country failed to hold legislative elections.

Authorities have said that at least 26 suspects have been arrested in the killing, including 18 former Colombian soldiers. Police are still looking for several more suspects they say were involved in the assassination plot, including a former rebel leader and an ex-senator.