Police in Haiti fired tear gas on hundreds of protesters who were marching against President Jovenel Moise in Port-au-Prince and attacked journalists covering the demonstration on Wednesday, in the latest clashes amid a continuing political crisis.
The protesters accuse Moise of illegally extending his term in office.
He says he can stay until February 2022 – but the opposition argues he should have stepped down last weekend, in a standoff over disputed elections.
“We are back to dictatorship! Down with Moise!” the protesters shouted as music blared from speakers amid chaotic scenes in the poor Caribbean nation of about 11 million people.
The protesters also yelled “Down with Sison,” a reference to the United States Ambassador to Haiti, Michele Jeanne Sison. Washington has so far backed Moise’s claim that he should step down in February 2022 after presidential elections are held this year.
Police later moved to violently clear the demonstration and on several occasions were seen singling out clearly identified members of the press, including journalists from the AFP news agency.
“Their job is to shoot the activists, throwing gas on all the press,” said protester Senat Andre Dufot.
“We all noticed that they put a tear gas canister in the back of the pick-up [van] of the TV Pacific car,” he said, referring to a Haitian media outlet vehicle, while clutching a copy of the country’s constitution in his hand.
In a statement, the Association of Haitian Journalists called on the Haitian National Police authorities to “conduct an investigation to identify the perpetrators of these abuses so that they can be held accountable for their actions.
Officials loyal to Moise claimed on Sunday they had foiled an attempt to murder him and overthrow the government in a coup.
Government opponents in Haiti are demanding President Jovenel Moïse resign — they say his term as president has ended.
Moïse says he still has one year left because of a one-year delay into office, and alleges the opposition led a failed attempted coup. pic.twitter.com/9YE45Vzdo9
— AJ+ (@ajplus) February 10, 2021
Police arrested 23 people, including Haitian Supreme Court judge Yvickel Dieujuste Dabresil, accusing them of an “attempted coup”.
On Tuesday, Moise tried to force out three judges, including Dabresil, who were proposed as potential interim national leaders to replace him.
Dabresil was released later on Wednesday from prison on the outskirts of the Haitian capital but remains under judicial supervision, according to his lawyers.
“When there are opponents fighting, the best way to eliminate them was to accuse them of fomenting a coup,” another protester, Ebens Cadet, said on Wednesday.
The decree appeared to be contrary to the constitution and Haitian law.
Aside from the US, Moise’s plan to stay in office until 2022 also has the support of the Organization of American States.
But in a statement on Twitter posted on Tuesday, the US embassy in Port-au-Prince said it was “deeply concerned about any actions that risk damaging Haiti’s democratic institutions.”
The dispute over when the president’s term ends stems from Moise’s original election. He was voted into office in a poll subsequently cancelled after allegations of fraud and then elected again a year later, in 2016.