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 Mr. Moise step down.
Mr. 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.
Mr. 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. Mr. Moise then said other high-ranking officials would provide more information.
Andre Michel, one of Haiti’s top opposition leaders, held a news conference hours after the arrests and called for civil disobedience and demanded that Mr. Moise be arrested. Mr. Michel, an attorney, said it was illegal to arrest Supreme Court Judge Yvickel Dabrezil because he has automatic immunity.
Justice Dabrezil is one of three judges that the opposition favours as a potential transitional president.
Reynold Georges, an attorney who once worked as a consultant for Mr. 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 Justice Dabresil, adding that the court system should shut down until he is free.
Mr. Georges also called on people to rise up against Mr. Moise.
Also arrested was Police Inspector-General Antoinette Gauthier, according to a statement from the Young Bar Association of Port-au-Prince, which accused Mr. 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 Mr. Moise should resign, saying that his term ends on Sunday. Mr. 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 Mr. Moise was sworn in 2017.
The opposition has organized recent protests demanding that Mr. Moise step down, and normally congested streets in Haiti’s capital and elsewhere remained empty on Sunday except for some 100 protesters who gathered in Port-au-Prince and clashed with police.
Historians noted that exactly 35 years ago, former dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier and his wife fled Haiti with help from the U.S. government amid a popular uprising. Mr. Duvalier died in 2014.
Meanwhile, Mr. Moise appears to have the support of the administration of U.S. President Joe Biden. Ned Price, a U.S. State Department spokesman, 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 Mr. Moise when his terms ends in February, 2022.
Mr. Moise is currently ruling by decree since dissolving 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, Mr. 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.”
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