Rival Haitian leaders battle for power after President's assassination

PORT-AU-PRINCE (REUTERS) – A power struggle is brewing in Haiti as the man appointed prime minister shortly before the assassination of Haiti’s President this week said he – not the acting premier – should lead the Caribbean nation and was forming a government to that effect.

Mr Ariel Henry, a neurosurgeon who was named prime minister by President Jovenel Moise on Monday, two days before Mr Moise was killed by a squad of gunmen in his home in the capital Port-au-Prince, said he was now the highest authority in Haiti, not interim Prime Minister Claude Joseph.

“After the President’s assassination, I became the highest, legal and regular authority because there was a decree nominating me,” Mr Henry told Reuters in a phone interview late on Friday (July 9).

Mr Henry had not been sworn in to replace Mr Joseph at the time of the assassination, which has created confusion over who is the legitimate leader of the 11 million people in Haiti, which shares the island of Hispaniola with the Dominican Republic.

Mr Joseph, who was named interim prime minister in April after the resignation of Mr Joseph Jouthe, has taken the reins of power so far, spearheading the government’s response to the assassination, appealing to the United States for support and declaring a 15-day state of emergency.

Elections Minister Mathias Pierre said Mr Joseph would keep that role until presidential and legislative elections are held on Sept 26.

But Mr Henry said instead that the new government he was forming would create a new electoral council – given that the previous one had been considered too partisan – and the council would determine new dates for elections.

“I don’t know what date they will be, all I know is that we cannot take too long to do these elections. We need to do them as soon as possible,” he said.

Haiti’s Senate, which currently comprises just a third of its usual 30 senators, nominated its head Joseph Lambert on Friday to be interim president, a document reviewed by Reuters showed.

Mr Henry, when asked if he was willing to rule alongside Mr Lambert, said he would be “ready to lead the country with all those who wanted to move forward”.

Haiti’s 1987 Constitution stipulates that the head of the Supreme Court should take over as interim president. But amendments that are not unanimously recognised state that it should be the prime minister, or, in the last year of a president’s mandate – as was the case with Mr Moise – Parliament that elects a president.

Further complicating the situation, the head of the Supreme Court died last month after contracting Covid-19 amid a surge of infections in one of the few countries yet to start a vaccination campaign.

There also is no sitting Parliament as legislative elections scheduled for late 2019 were postponed amid political unrest.

Colombian connection

The Haitian authorities have said Mr Moise was killed by a group of foreign, trained assassins comprising 26 Colombians and two Haitian Americans.

Seventeen of the men were captured after a gun battle with the Haitian authorities in Petionville, a hillside suburb of Port-au-Prince, while three were killed and eight are still at large, according to Haitian police.

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Colombian investigators took a Friday evening flight to Port-au-Prince to help the Haitian authorities with the probe into the assassination, General Jorge Luis Vargas, head of Colombia’s national police, said on Twitter.

“Travelling are the head of the National Intelligence Directive, and on behalf of the police, the director of intelligence brigadier general Norberto Mujica and a most high-level official from Interpol Colombia,” Gen Vargas tweeted.

The United States has no plans currently to provide military assistance to Haiti, according to a senior administration official in Washington, after Port-au-Prince made a request for US troops on Friday.

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