Foreign dignitaries take cover during protests at Haiti president's funeral

Shots reported during demonstrations by supporters of assassinated leader Jovenel Moise

Dignitaries were hurried to their vehicles during the funeral of assassinated Haitian president Jovenel Moise on Friday, amid reports of shots being heard and security forces firing gas at protesters.

Reuters witnesses saw the gas and heard detonations they believed to be shots.

Pallbearers in military uniform carried Moise's body in a closed wooden coffin, two weeks after he was shot dead at home in an assassination still shrouded in mystery.

The bearers placed the polished casket on a dais garlanded with flowers. Four stood guard as a Roman Catholic priest blessed the coffin and a Haitian flag was unfurled.

Foreign dignitaries, including US President Joe Biden's top adviser for the Western Hemisphere, flew to the northern coastal city of Cap-Haitien to pay their respects to Moise.

They joined mourners who have taken part in a series of commemorations in Haiti this week.

Moise was gunned down in his home in the capital Port-au-Prince before dawn on July 7, setting off a new political crisis in the Caribbean country that has struggled with poverty, lawlessness and instability.

Protests by angry supporters of Moise had convulsed his home town of Cap-Haitien for a second successive day on Thursday.

Demonstrators set tyres on fire to block roads, while workers paved a brick road to Moise's mausoleum on a dusty plot of several acres enclosed by high walls.

Set on land held by Moise's family, and where he lived as a boy, the partly built tomb stands in the shade of fruit trees, a few steps from the mausoleum of Moise's father, who died last year. Police controlled access through a single gate.

The assassination was a reminder of the ongoing influence foreign powers have in the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, despite it becoming Latin America and the Caribbean's first independent state at the start of the 19th century.

Haitian security forces say the assassination was carried out by a group that included 26 Colombian former soldiers, at least six of whom had previously received US military training. Haitian Americans are also among those accused.

At least 20 people have been detained in connection with Moise's murder.

The attack's plotters disguised the mercenaries as US Drug Enforcement Administration agents, a ruse that helped them enter Moise's home without resistance from his security detail, authorities said. At least one of the arrested men, a Haitian American, had previously worked as an informant for the DEA.

The turmoil has pushed Haiti up Mr Biden's foreign policy priorities, and on Thursday the State Department named a special envoy for the country.

The president has rebuffed a request by Haiti's interim leaders to send troops to protect infrastructure.

Screens inside the auditorium broadcast images of Moise and his meetings with world leaders, including Pope Francis, French President Emmanuel Macron and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

Helen La Lime, Special Representative of the UN Secretary General for Haiti, was among those attending the funeral.

A former banana exporter, Moise failed to quell gang violence that surged under his watch and faced waves of street protests over corruption allegations and his management of the economy.

However, the demonstrators in Cap-Haitien were venting anger over the many questions that remain unanswered about the assassination, including who planned it and why.

Banners celebrating Moise festooned buildings along the narrow streets of Cap-Haitien's old town, with proclamations in Creole including, “They killed the body, but the dream will never die,” and “Jovenel Moise – defender of the poor.”

Updated: July 23rd 2021, 4:19 PM
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