PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti: Haitian authorities on Sunday arrested nearly two dozen people, including a Supreme Court judge, for their role in a claimed plot to oust President Jovenel Moise that has increased political tensions in the troubled Caribbean country.
Prime Minister Joseph Jouthe told a news conference at his separate residence that a senior police official was also among the 23 people detained with money, guns, and ammunition.
“These people had contacted national palace security officials, high-ranking officers of the national palace whose mission was to arrest the president … and also to facilitate the installation of a new president,” Jouthe said, speaking alongside the minister of justice and the chief of police.
President Moise, talking later at the Port-Au-Prince airport on his way to launch the annual carnival in the seaside town of Jacmel, said the plotters aimed to make an “attempt on my life”.
The arrests come after leading opposition figures this week announced a plan to replace Moise with a new head of state, accusing the president of being authoritarian and presiding over economic chaos in the Western hemisphere’s poorest country.
Earlier on Sunday, anti-government demonstrators in Port-Au-Prince clashed with police, who responded with tear gas. There were also street protests against Moise in some other towns.
The opposition plan called for civil society members and opposition leaders to pick a new president from one of the sitting Supreme Court judges instead of waiting for general elections scheduled for September.
Moise, who has ruled by decree since mid-January, has stated he would hand over power to the winner of the elections but would not step down until his term expires in 2022.
On Friday, the U.S. government urged talks to resolve the crisis while underlining “a newly elected president should succeed President Moise when his term ends on February 2nd, 2022.”
Moise has also put in place plans to hold a referendum on amending the constitution in April, with the opposition voicing concerns the vote will not be free or fair and could give Moise too much power.
Haiti has been severely hit by a crippling economic crisis made worse by the coronavirus pandemic.
The country has also been paralyzed over the past year by a spike in kidnappings and a sharp rise in overall crime, which has weighed on the economy and dealt a massive blow to ordinary people’s quality of life.