- Jovenel Moïse was killed by a group of assailants at his home early Wednesday morning.
- The government did not identify the perpetrators but said some of them were speaking Spanish.
- The first lady was also injured by gunfire, the government said.
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The president of Haiti was assassinated at his home early Wednesday morning, the government said. He was 53.
Jovenel Moïse was killed in his private residence at about 1 a.m. local time by a group of assailants, Haitian Prime Minister Claude Joseph said in a Wednesday statement.
The first lady, Martine Moïse, was also injured by gunfire, the statement said. One of Moïse’s children was present during the attack but is safe, according to Le Nouvelliste, a French-language Haitian publication.
Joseph’s statement did not identify the assailants but said some of them were Spanish-speaking. The main languages spoken in Haiti are Haitian Creole and French.
He also told The New York Times he was now in charge of the country.
Previous reports located Moïse’s private home in Pétion-Ville, an upscale suburb of the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince.
The AP reported, citing Joseph, that the police had been deployed to the National Palace and Pétion-Ville.
ABC News reported that the Toussaint Louverture International Airport, near Port-au-Prince, was closed following the attack.
White House calls the attack a ‘horrific crime’
In a Wednesday appearance on CNN, the White House press secretary, Jen Psaki, called the attack a “horrific crime.”
“We’re so sorry for the loss,” she said, adding: “We stand ready and stand by them to provide any assistance that’s needed.”
President Joe Biden is also due to be briefed later Wednesday, the Associated Press reported, citing Psaki’s interview with MSNBC.
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson tweeted that he was “shocked and saddened” by Moïse’s death, calling it an “abhorrent act.”
“We support institutions and democracy, and we ask the Organization of American States for an urgent mission to protect the democratic order,” he said.
Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez also issued his own statement on Twitter calling for unity.
“Spain strongly condemns the assassination of the president of Haiti, Jovenel Moise,” he added. “Our condolences to his family and our solidarity with the Haitian people.”
The Dominican Republic, meanwhile, ordered the “immediate closure” of its border with Haiti following the assassination, the Dominican official Ceinett Sanchez told AFP.
Moïse was deeply unpopular in his country
Moïse faced years of protests against his government and calls for his resignation.
He has served as Haiti’s president since February 2017, and the country was due to hold a general election in 2019, but it was postponed. The election is due to take place in September.
Critics of Moïse said he was clinging on to power and argued that his term should have ended in February, AFP reported.
“He is doing everything, utilizing all kinds of maneuvers, to hold onto power and to ensure that he remains the only person governing in the country,” Gédéon Jean, a lawyer and human-rights activist in Port-au-Prince, told the Miami Herald in January.
In addition to the election, the people of Haiti were also due to vote in a referendum in September concerning changes to the constitution that would give the executive leadership more power.
The move to change the 1987 constitution was supported by Moïse but was extremely unpopular and had been postponed twice because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
In his statement, Joseph described the attack as “odious, inhumane, and barbarous.” He also told The Times that the president had been “cowardly assassinated” but that the perpetrators “cannot assassinate his ideas.”
Joseph plans to address the country later Wednesday, The Times said.