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Unidentified Gunmen Assassinated Haitian President Jovenel Moïse

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Early this morning, gunmen entered the private residence of Haiti's president, Jovenel Moise. They shot him dead and injured his wife. Leaders throughout the Western Hemisphere, including President Biden, denounced the assassination. Haiti's ambassador to the U.S., Bocchit Edmond, has asked for international help to investigate and also called on Haitians to unite.

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BOCCHIT EDMOND: To come together, to unite ourselves because there is no benefit in, you know, trying to put the country deeper in chaos.

SHAPIRO: NPR's Carrie Kahn covers Haiti and joins us from Mexico City. Hi, Carrie.

CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: Hi, Ari.

SHAPIRO: What more can you tell us about this attack in the middle of the night and who the gunmen were?

KAHN: It's unclear who they are. They breached the president's residence around 1 a.m. this morning. Several sources have said the men were well-armed professional mercenaries and speaking in English and Spanish, which is significant since French and Creole are the main languages in Haiti. The men gunned down Moise and injured his wife, who survived the attack. She was taken first to a local hospital and has been airlifted to Miami for treatment. There are videos circulating from neighbors' surveillance cameras. And you see the heavily armed men outside the president's residence. And one shows - has a lot of gunfire ringing out, but not a lot more information than that is known right now - or has been told right now. Authorities have declared a, quote, "state of siege," and they closed the country's international airport.

SHAPIRO: And what does this mean for Haiti's government, the leadership? Who's in charge?

KAHN: The prime minister right now is Claude Joseph. However, he was an interim prime minister, and the president had appointed a new prime minister who was set to take office today. But it looks like Joseph will remain in the post. And today he spoke to the nation trying to reassure Haitians. Here's a bit from that address.

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CLAUDE JOSEPH: (Non-English language spoken).

KAHN: He says, "President Jovenel Moise will not die without receiving justice. You can kill him. You can kill President Jovenel Moise, but you cannot kill his ideas."

SHAPIRO: Now, Haiti is the hemisphere's poorest country. And on top of the COVID-19 pandemic, it has been struggling with a growth in gang violence. So how was Moise dealing with all of this?

KAHN: He was an embattled president, to say the least. He was under a lot of pressure to step down. Gang violence, like you said, skyrocketed of late. Kidnappings were just terrible. The security situation in the country is very grave. More than 14,000 people have been living in shelters and displaced by the rise in violence. Moise had a huge political problem. Opponents said his term ended in February, but he said he would stay until 2022, since he was delayed in starting his five-year term in the first place. It was just a very difficult situation for him. And there was a lot of concern he was passing laws to concentrate his power, and there are long-standing accusations against him of financial corruption.

SHAPIRO: What's the U.S. been saying about this?

KAHN: Well, the U.S. stood by Moise and his position that his presidency until 2022 was legitimate. And once again today, U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price reiterated the U.S.'s stance that democratic elections must happen in Haiti as soon as possible.

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NED PRICE: It is still the view of the United States that elections this year should proceed. We know that free and fair elections are the democratic path towards ending Haiti's irregular and prolonged rule by decree.

KAHN: Haiti's ambassador to the U.S. said that they will be asking for help to help maintain a secure Haiti if they need it and that they do want international help in investigating the assassination and bringing these criminals to justice. That's what they're asking for today.

SHAPIRO: That is NPR's Carrie Kahn. Thank you very much.

KAHN: You're welcome. Thanks, Ari. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.