A deadly gun battle between police and the men suspected of assassinating Haiti’s President Jovenel Moïse has been raging in Port-au-Prince.
Police chief Léon Charles said four suspects had been killed and two detained but some remained at large and a manhunt was still underway.
“They will be killed or captured,” the police chief said.
Police chief Charles described dramatic scenes as officers confronted the alleged assassins.
“We blocked [the suspects] en route as they left the scene of the crime,” he told a news conference. “Since then, we have been battling with them.”
Officials say the suspects are well armed and had taken three police officers hostage, who have since been freed.
Mr Charles urged residents to stay indoors for their own safety.
- 11 millioninhabitants
- 59%percentage who live below the poverty line
- 2004-2017years in which a UN peacekeeping force was present
- 200,000number of people killed in the 2010 earthquake
Source: BBC Monitoring
The acting prime minister, Claude Joseph, has described Haiti as being “in shock” after the killing of Mr Moïse.
Heavily armed assassins stormed the president’s home in the hills above Port-au-Prince at around 01:00 local time (05:00 GMT).
Mr Moïse was shot multiple times and died at the scene. The president’s body had a total of 12 bullet wounds, Magistrate Carl Henry Destin told the Novelist newspaper.
He said the president’s office and bedroom were ransacked and that he was found him lying on his back, covered in blood.
First Lady Martine Moïse was also injured in the attack and has been flown to Florida where she is said to be in a critical but stable condition.
The couple’s three children, Jomarlie, Jovenel Jr and Joverlein, are reportedly in a “safe location”, government officials said.
Mr Destin said that Jomarlie had survived by hiding in her brother’s room, while two domestic staff members had been tied up by the attackers.
What do we know about the attackers?
Mr Joseph described the gunmen as “mercenaries” and said that they were “foreigners who spoke English and Spanish”. Haiti’s official languages are Creole and French.
But Haiti’s communications minister has since said that there were Haitians among the suspects.
Video released after the shooting purports to show heavily armed men dressed in black outside the residence shouting in English: “DEA [US Drug Enforcement Administration] operations, everybody stay down!”
Haiti’s ambassador to the US, Bocchit Edmond, said that while the attackers had disguised themselves as US drugs agents, he believed there was “no way” they really were US agents.
Streets deserted amid fear
The streets of Haiti were deserted after the killing and Haitians mostly heeded the call by the interim prime minister to remain calm and stay indoors.
Mr Joseph has declared a two-week state of emergency, which allows for the banning of gatherings and use of the military for police roles, along with other extensions of executive powers.
The United Nations Security Council has condemned the assassination of Haiti’s president Jovenel Moïse, calling on all parties to remain calm and avoid further instability.
World leaders have condemned the killing. Pope Francis said it was a “heinous murder” and the United Nations Security Council is set to hold a closed-door meeting on the killing on Thursday.
The United Nations also made “an emphatic call on all political stakeholders in Haiti to refrain from any acts of violence or incitement”.
Rocky times and rival claims
Even before President Moïse’s assassination, the situation in Haiti was marked by instability and there had been widespread protests demanding his resignation.
Parliamentary elections should have been held in October 2019 but disputes delayed them, meaning Mr Moïse had been ruling by decree.
During his four years in office, the president had six prime ministers and on Monday, a day before he was killed, he had nominated a seventh one, Ariel Henry.
But Mr Henry had not yet been sworn in, leaving his predecessor, Claude Joseph, in charge.
Uncertainty about who should now govern the country is rife.
Mr Joseph has said he will take control until elections could be held. But in an interview with Le Nouvelliste newspaper on Wednesday, Mr Henry insisted that he and not Mr Joseph was the prime minister.
Haiti’s constitution says the president of the Supreme Court should take over in the event of a presidential vacancy. However, Chief Justice René Sylvestre died of Covid-19 weeks ago.
The US said it believed elections should go ahead this year, to bring about a peaceful transfer of power.