Haitian authorities said Sunday they had foiled an attempt to kill President Jovenel Moise and overthrow the government, as a dispute rages over when his term ends.
The plot was an "attempted coup d'etat," according to Justice Minister Rockefeller Vincent, with authorities saying at least 23 people have been arrested, including a top judge and an official from the national police.
"I thank my head of security at the palace. The goal of these people was to make an attempt on my life," Moise said. "That plan was aborted."
Moise has been governing without any checks on his power for the past year and says he remains president until Feb. 7, 2022 — in an interpretation of the constitution rejected by the opposition, which has led protests asserting his term ends Sunday.
The United States on Friday accepted the president's claim to power, with State Department spokesman Ned Price saying Washington has urged "free and fair legislative elections so that parliament may resume its rightful role."
The dispute over when the president's term ends stems from Moise's original election: he was voted into office in a poll later canceled on grounds of fraud, and then elected again a year later, in 2016.
After the latter disputed election, demonstrations demanding his resignation intensified in the summer of 2018.
Voting to elect deputies, senators, mayors and local officials should have been held in 2018, but the polls have been delayed, triggering the vacuum in which Moise says he is entitled to stay for another year.
In recent years, angry Haitians have demonstrated against what they call rampant government corruption and unchecked crime by gangs.
In a letter Friday to the U.N. mission in Haiti, a dozen or so human rights and women's advocacy groups faulted it for providing technical and logistical support for the president's plans to hold a constitutional reform referendum in April, then presidential and legislative elections.
"The United Nations must under no circumstances support President Jovenel Moise in his anti-democratic plans," the letter stated.