PORT-AU-PRINCE (Reuters) - Haitian President Jovenel Moise was shot dead by unidentified attackers in his private residence overnight in a “barbaric act”, the government said on Wednesday, stirring fears of escalating turmoil in the impoverished Caribbean nation.
The assassination, which drew condemnation from neighboring Latin American countries, coincided with a spate of gang violence in Port-au-Prince in recent months fueled by a growing humanitarian crisis and political unrest. The disorder has turned many districts of the capital into no-go zones.
Interim Prime Minister Claude Joseph said in televised remarks after chairing a cabinet meeting that the government had declared a state of emergency amid confusion over who would take over the reins of the country. “My compatriots, remain calm because the situation is under control,” he said.
The 53-year-old president’s wife, Martine Moise, was also shot in the attack at around 1 a.m. local time (0500 GMT) at the couple’s home in the hills above Port-au-Prince, Joseph said in a statement. She was receiving medical treatment.
“A group of unidentified individuals, some of them speaking Spanish, attacked the private residence of the president of the republic and thus fatally wounded the head of state,” he said.
Joseph said the police and army had the security situation under control. The streets of the usually bustling capital of 1 million people were quiet and empty on Wednesday morning after the attack and intermittent gunfire overnight.
“All measures are being taken to guarantee the continuity of the state and to protect the nation,” Joseph said.
But with Haiti politically polarized and facing growing hunger, fears of a breakdown in order are spreading. The Dominican Republic said it was closing the border it shares with Haiti on the Caribbean island of Hispaniola.
“This crime is an attack against the democratic order of Haiti and the region,” Dominican Republic President Luis Abinader said.
Leaders worldwide condemned the attack and appealed for calm. Colombian President Ivan Duque called upon the Organization of American States to dispatch a mission to Haiti to “guarantee democratic order”.
It was unclear who would succeed Moise as president. He had appointed a new prime minister this week who has yet to be sworn in. The head of the Supreme Court of Justice - another contender for the job, according to the constitution - died last month of COVID-19 and has yet to be replaced.