CAP-HAITIEN, Haiti, July 23 (Reuters) – The funeral of assassinated Haitian President Jovenel Moise on Friday was disrupted by gunfire fired nearby and riot gas used on protesters, prompting a high-level US delegation from abruptly and other dignitaries to dodge in vehicles for safety.
The state funeral in the northern city of Cap-Haitien was meant to foster national unity, but the unrest reflected deep division over the June 7 atrocity, in which foreign gunmen apparently entered without being challenged in the presidential residence and shot Moses on several occasions, also injuring his wife.
Few answers have emerged as to who planned the murder, or why.
There were no immediate reports of injuries among protesters or authorities on Friday, and no indication that any guests at the funeral were in danger. Reuters witnesses smelled gas and heard detonations believed to be gunshots outside the service site.
Smoke spread through the compound. Dozens of police and security officials formed protective lines around Haitian officials in the stands.
US President Joe Biden’s Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield was present at the head of the US delegation. The delegation heard the gunshots and were heading home a little earlier than expected, according to a source familiar with the matter.
“The presidential delegation is safe and sound in light of the shooting outside the funeral,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters.
“We are deeply concerned about the unrest in Haiti.
Earlier, in remarks made when the delegation arrived in Cap-Haitien, Thomas-Greenfield called on the new Haitian Prime Minister Ariel Henry to create the conditions for the legislative and presidential elections “as soon as possible”.
“The Haitian people deserve democracy, stability, security and prosperity, and we are by their side in this time of crisis,” Thomas-Greenfield said on Twitter. “We urge everyone to speak out peacefully and to refrain from all violence.”
PROTESTS IN THE HOMETOWN
The unrest erupted minutes after a marching band and a church choir opened the Moise ceremony.
The service did take place, with speeches from family members, but it was punctuated by angry cries from supporters accusing authorities of being responsible for Moise’s death. Their lyrics were sometimes drowned out by heavy swells of dark, recorded church music.
The coffin was placed in a concrete tomb about ten feet (three meters) deep, and covered with iron bars, then sealed with wooden planks, cement and large boulders. The grave was near a mausoleum of Moise’s father, who died last year a few years under 100.
Haitian officials arriving at the event encountered verbal anger from protesters, with one man calling police chief Leon Charles a “criminal.”
“Why do you have all this security, where were the police the day the president was assassinated?” said a protester.
Protests by Moise supporters shook Cap-Haitien, the hometown of the assassinated leader, for three days.
Protesters expressed their anger at the many unanswered questions about the assassination, including who planned it and why.
“You lost a battle, but the war is not over. We have to do you justice, ”said President Martine Moise’s widow in Haitian Creole, her face almost hidden under a wide-brimmed black hat and her right arm in a sling after being injured in the attack.
She said the system was against him, citing powerful business interests seen in the country as a de facto oligarchy, without giving details.
“Cry out for justice. We don’t want revenge, we want justice,” she said.
For some, the assassination was a reminder of the continued influence of foreign actors in the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, despite becoming the first state in Latin America and the Caribbean to become independent from Europe. at the beginning of the 19th century.
The attack was carried out by a group that included 26 former Colombian soldiers, at least six of whom had previously received US military training. Haitian Americans were also among the accused.
The mercenaries were disguised as US Drug Enforcement Administration agents, a ruse that helped them enter Moise’s home without any resistance from his security side, authorities said. One of the arrested men, an American of Haitian descent, had previously worked as an informant for the DEA.
The turmoil has pushed Haiti up the foreign policy priorities of US President Joe Biden and on Thursday the State Department appointed a special envoy for the country. But Biden rejected a request by Haiti’s interim rulers to send troops to protect infrastructure.
Moses himself faced massive protests. He was accused in a Senate audit of being involved in the embezzlement of more than $ 2 billion in Venezuelan aid and angered his opponents by ruling by decree and seeking to expand presidential power.
Gang violence increased under his watch and the economy suffered.
However, support seemed strong in his hometown. Banners celebrating Moses festooned the buildings along the narrow streets of the old town of Cap-Haitien, with proclamations in Creole, including “They killed the body, but the dream will never die” and “Jovenel Moise – defender of the poor “.
Report by Dave Graham in Mexico City and André Paultre in Cap-Haitien; Writing by Frank Jack Daniel; Additional reporting by Ezequiel Abiu Lopez in Santo Domingo and Michelle Nichols in New York; Editing by Giles Elgood and Rosalba O’Brien
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