Thousands of people have rallied in the Haitian capital Port-au-Prince, accusing the government of trying to establish a new dictatorship and denouncing international support for President Jovenel Moise.
The protests on Sunday were mostly peaceful, although a few clashes broke out between some demonstrators and police, who fired tear gas and rubber-coated bullets.
Protesters waved the national flag and chanted: “Down with the dictatorship!”
Officials loyal to Moise claimed last Sunday they had foiled an attempt to murder him and overthrow the government. Police arrested 23 people including a Supreme Court judge, accusing them of an “attempted coup”.
The Caribbean nation has been plunged into turmoil amid a dispute between Moise’s government and the opposition over when the president’s term is supposed to end.
The opposition claims Moise should step down as his five-year term in office expired on February 7 following 2015 elections, which were disputed and the result cancelled by the electoral council.Moise rejects those claims, arguing he took power in February 2017 after winning fresh elections in 2016. He has pledged to step down next year.
The 52-year-old has been ruling by presidential decree for more than a year after dissolving a majority of parliament in January 2020, amid a delay in legislative elections due to political gridlock and protests that paralysed the country in 2019.
The constitutional crisis has led to weeks of violent protests on the streets of the impoverished country and Haiti’s ambassador to the US Bocchit Edmond has called on the international community to support talks between Moise’s government and the opposition.
“I believe the international community, our international partners, should work with us and with the opposition parties to make sure that we come to some kind of dialogue or political agreement, so we can have a better way to move forward,” Edmond said.
The United States has backed Moise’s position at the end of his term, with State Department spokesman Ned Price saying on February 5 that “a new elected president should succeed President Moise when his term ends on February 7, 2022”.
Sunday’s protests questioned the legitimacy of Moise’s term length and foreign backing for his holding office.
“Despite all the kidnappings, the massacres in poor neighbourhoods, the United States continues to support him,” said protester Sheila Pelicier.
“The money from the PetroCaribe fund has been squandered, we don’t have good hospitals … and the United States continues to support this corrupt government,” Pelicier said, referring to a loan programme whose funds the Haitian government has been accused of mismanaging since 2008.
Police officers also fired live ammunition into the air in Petion-Ville, a wealthy commune in Port-au-Prince where a car was set on fire.
The notorious Francois “Papa Doc” Duvalier and his son Jean Claude “Baby Doc” ruled Haiti from 1957 until 1986 with their ruthless Tontons Macoutes militia.