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Haiti's president alleges coup conspiracy; 20 arrested

Haitian President Jovenel Moïse announced today that police have arrested more than 20 people he accused of trying to kill him and overthrow his government, including a Supreme Court judge who has the support of opposition leaders demanding that Moïse step down.

A boy drags a sign reading in Creole “Do not throw trash here. The Police,” that has been set alight to setup a barricade during a nationwide strike demanding the resignation of Haitian President Jovenel Moise. Source: Associated Press

Moïse spoke at Haiti's airport in Port-au-Prince, flanked by the country's prime minister and the police chief as he prepared to leave for the southern coastal town of Jacmel for the opening ceremony of its yearly carnival, which is being held amid the pandemic.

"There was an attempt on my life," he said.

Moïse said the alleged plot began on November 20 but did not provide further details or any evidence except to say among the people arrested is a judge and an inspector general with the police. 

Moïse then said other high-ranking officials would provide more information but they all walked away and did not speak further to reporters.

Opposition leaders could not be immediately reached for comment.

Reynold Georges, an attorney who once worked as a consultant for Moïse's administration but has since joined the opposition, denounced the arrests in an interview with radio station Zenith FM.

"We ask for his release immediately," he said of Irvikel Dabresil, the Supreme Court judge who is being detained, adding that the court system should shut down until he's free.

Georges also called on people to rise up against Moïse.

Also arrested was Police General Inspector Antoinette Gauthier, according to a statement from the Young Bar Association of Port-au-Prince, which accused Moïse's administration of sowing terror and said Sunday's actions should not be tolerated.

The arrests come on the day that opposition leaders claim Moïse should resign, saying that his term ends today. Moïse has repeatedly stated that his five-year term ends in February 2022. 

Former President Michel Martelly's term ended in 2016, but a chaotic election forced the appointment of a provisional president for one year until Moïse was sworn in in 2017.

The opposition has organised recent protests demanding that Moïse step down, and normally congested streets in Haiti's capital and elsewhere remained empty today as a handful of demonstrators burned tires.

Meanwhile, Moïse appears to have the support of the administration of US President Joe Biden. 

Ned Price, a US State Department spokesman, said on Saturday that the US has urged Haiti to organise free and fair elections so that Parliament can resume operations, adding that a new elected president should succeed Moïse when his term ends in February 2022.

Moïse is currently ruling by decree after dissolving a majority of Parliament in January 2020 after no legislative elections were held. 

He is planning an upcoming constitutional referendum in April that critics say could award him more power, while general elections are scheduled for later this year.