Haiti's president alleges coup conspiracy; 20 arrested
Published Sunday, February 7, 2021 2:58PM EST Last Updated Sunday, February 7, 2021 3:04PM EST
FILE - Police arrive to prevent demonstrators from burning tires during a protest to demand the resignation of Haiti's President Jovenel Moise, in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Thursday, Dec. 10, 2020. (AP Photo/Dieu Nalio Chery)
PORT-AU-PRINCE, HAITI -- 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 Moise step down.
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.
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. Moise then said other high-ranking officials would provide more information but they all walked away and did not speak further to reporters.
Andre Michel, one of Haiti's top opposition leaders, held a press conference hours after the arrests and called for civil disobedience and demanded that Moise be arrested. Michel, an attorney, said it was illegal to arrest Supreme Court Judge Yvickel Dabrezil because he has automatic immunity.
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 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 Dabrezil, adding that the court system should shut down until he's free.
Georges also called on people to rise up against Moise.
Also arrested was Police General Inspector Antoinette Gauthier, according to a statement from the Young Bar Association of Port-au-Prince, which accused 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 Moise should resign, saying that his term ends on Sunday. 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 Moise was sworn in in 2017.
The president of Haiti's Senate, Joseph Lambert, said he would speak about Moise's presidential mandate on Sunday, at the same time the president is scheduled to deliver a public address.
The opposition has organized recent protests demanding that 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. Duvalier died in 2014.
Meanwhile, 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 Moise when his terms ends in February 2022.
Moise is currently ruling by decree after dissolving a majority of 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.
AP writer Danica Coto contributed from San Juan, Puerto Rico