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Haitians protest, pay tribute as country grapples with president's killing

ASIA
By Reuters | July 15th 2021

People place a portrait of late Haitian President Jovenel Moise outside the Presidential Palace. [Reuters]

Scattered protests broke out in Haiti's capital on Wednesday as gasoline shortages added to concerns over insecurity and police announced new arrests a week after the assassination of President Jovenel Moise pitched the already-troubled Caribbean nation into political chaos.

Nearly all the gas stations in Port-au-Prince were closed and long lines formed outside the few that were still operating, with residents blaming both the criminal gangs that control key supply routes and opportunistic black market fuel sellers paralyzing distribution into Haiti's biggest city.

Some protesters set tires ablaze in the middle of gritty streets, which remained quieter than usual in the aftermath of Moise's killing early on July 7.

Moise was shot dead at his home by what Haitian authorities describe as a unit of assassins, including 26 Colombians and two Haitian Americans. Eighteen of the Colombians were detained, three were killed by police and five were still on the run, Haitian police said. A third Haitian-American, Christian Emmanuel Sanon, was arrested on Sunday by Haitian authorities, who accused him of being a mastermind of the attack.

Haitian police announced Wednesday that they arrested two more men after searching their homes and finding weapons.

Police said at a news conference that 24 police officers have been subjected to "precautionary" measures and four were in isolation as part of the investigation.

National Police chief Leon Charles identified former Haitian Senator John Joel Joseph as a key player in the plot. He supplied weapons and planned meetings, Charles said, adding that police were searching for him.

Haiti's General Prosecutor Bed-Ford Claude arrives at the courthouse to preside a hearing following the assassination of President Jovenel Moise. [Reuters]

Charles also pointed a finger at a company he identified as World Wide Capital Lending Group as being responsible for fundraising "to execute this criminal act."

World Wide Capital Lending Group, which is based in Florida, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Colombian news outlet Semana reported that one of the Colombians in custody confessed on Wednesday afternoon to Haitian authorities that seven of the Colombian suspects were what it called the "killers" of Moise, without elaborating.

Semana did not provide a source for the apparent confession, which it said the retired soldier had made "in tears." The report was not verified by Reuters, and Colombian officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Prosecutors have been preparing to question the head of Moise's security team, Dimitri Herard. It was not clear if the questioning has yet taken place.

Moise's killing came amid a surge in gang violence in recent months that has displaced thousands and hampered economic activity in the poorest country in the Americas. At the justice ministry where Herard was to be questioned, graffiti spray-painted on the wall declared: "We reject the power of the gangs."

Eugene France, 63, speaking outside the ministry, said he was struggling to sell any of the men's dress shoes he had slung around his neck and feared more violence.

"No one is safe, not even the police," he said. "I'm scared because the gangs just keep killing people and I can't sell anything."

People place flowers at a memorial outside the Presidential Palace in memory of President Jovenel Moise. [Reuters]

Outside the national palace, a small crowd gathered at a makeshift memorial with flower arrangements, rows of white candles and a Haitian flag at half staff in front of a large photograph of Moise.

Damy Makenson, a 30-year-old office worker, slowly approached the memorial, laid down some flowers and solemnly made the sign of the cross over his head and chest.

"He died working to remake Haiti, and I want you to know that his ideas did not die with him," Makenson said, comparing Moise to Jean-Jacques Dessalines, a Haitian founding father and military leader who helped put an end to French colonial rule in the early 1800s.

In New York, Haiti's U.N. ambassador, Antonio Rodrigue, on Wednesday appealed for international help.

"At this uncertain time, Haiti needs the support of the international community more than ever," he told the 193-member U.N. General Assembly, where ambassadors stood to mark a moment's silence to honor Moise.

Rodrigue listed organizing democratic elections and the government's ability to meet Haiti's socio-economic needs as challenges facing the nation.

The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, said a U.S. delegation recently in Haiti had called for dialogue to help enable free and fair presidential and parliamentary elections.

The United States is still evaluating Haiti's request for assistance, and its focus is helping the Haitian government "with navigating the investigation into the assassination of President Moise," State Department spokesman Ned Price said.

"The Department of Justice will continue to support Haitian authorities in their review of the facts and the circumstances surrounding this attack," Price said at a news briefing on Wednesday. 

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