Dozens were arrested in Haiti for an alleged coup attempt on Sunday, while protesters accused President Jovenel Moise of unconstitutionally extending his term.
“We have arrested 23 people for conspiracy against the state,” Justice Minister Rockefeller Vincent said. Among them is a Supreme Court judge, he said.
According to Haiti’s constitution, presidential terms last five years. Haiti’s Superior Court of Justice and the country’s opposition movement say that Moise, who won a runoff vote in 2016, was due to step down on Sunday.
But Moise argues he gets one more year because he was not actually sworn in until 2017 – a claim backed by both the Organization of American States and US President Joe Biden’s administration.
“My Administration received from the Haitian people a constitutional mandate of 60 months. We have exhausted 48 of them. The next 12 months will be devoted to reforming the energy sector, carrying out the referendum, and organizing elections,” Moise tweeted Sunday.
Moise has ruled by decree for more than a year, after the government failed to organize parliamentary elections, leaving the body vacant.
Last week, US State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters that “a new elected president should succeed President Moise when his term ends on February 7, 2022.”
Price also urged Moise’s government “to organize free and fair legislative elections so that parliament may resume its rightful role” and to “exercise restraint in issuing decrees.”
Several US representatives have voiced support for Haiti’s opposition, calling on the US State Department in an open letter to “condemn President Moise’s undemocratic actions, and support the establishment of a transitional government.”
Moise’s term has seen rising poverty, violence and protests that have sometimes paralyzed the island. A former banana exporter, Moise has also been targeted by a corruption investigation into his affairs before becoming President.
In a televised address Sunday, Moise told the country, “I gave a formal order to authorities to arrest and put in jail everyone who trying to cause chaos in the country,” he added.
Security forces have searched the homes of dozens of opposition leaders across the country, according to opposition leader André Michel.
CNN’s Sharif Paget contributed to this report.