Haitian President Jovenel Moise was shot dead by unidentified attackers in his private residence overnight in an "inhuman and barbaric act" and his wife was injured, Interim Prime Minister Claude Joseph said on Wednesday.Moise's wife is in critical condition and is being medically evacuated to Miami.
Jospeh said the police and army had the security situation under control but gunshots could be heard throughout the capital after the attack, which occurred amid a rising wave of politically linked violence in the impoverished Caribbean nation.
Joseph said in televised remarks after chairing a cabinet meeting that the government had declared a two-week state of emergency amid confusion over who would take over the reins of the country. "My compatriots, remain calm because the situation is under control," he said.
Gunmen who assassinated Haitian President Jovenel Moise identified themselves as agents from the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), the Haitian ambassador to the United States told Reuters on Wednesday, citing government video footage, but added he did not believe that was the case.
"No way they were DEA agents," Ambassador Bochhit Edmond told Reuters in an interview hours after Moise was shot dead and his wife was wounded.
Edmond also said Haiti needed U.S. security assistance and U.S. officials had told him they were assessing the request.
With Haiti politically divided, and facing a growing humanitarian crisis and shortages of food, there are fears of widespread disorder.
"The president was injured and succumbed to those injuries," Joseph said in an interview with Radio Caraibes.
Port-au-Prince had been suffering an increase in violence as gangs battle one another and police for control of the streets.
The bloodshed is driven by worsening poverty and political instability. Moise faced fierce protests after taking office as president in 2017, with the opposition accusing him this year of seeking to install a dictatorship by overstaying his mandate and becoming more authoritarian - charges he denied.
"All measures are being taken to guarantee the continuity of the state and to protect the nation," Joseph said.In the meantime, Haiti's government, under chair of the Prime Minister, will lead the country until elections of new president.
Moise had ruled by decree for more than a year after the country failed to hold legislative elections and wanted to push through a controversial constitutional reform.
His refusal to step down led to wide-spread protests among pro-democracy protestors, who were dispersed by police forces using tear gas and rounds of live fire. According to reports, police forces also attacked a number of journalists who were covering the riots, leaving at least one in critical condition.
At least 23 people, including a top judge and senior police officer were arrested that same month over accusations of attempting to carry out a coup against the president.
The US Embassy said in a statement it would be closed on Wednesday due to the "ongoing security situation."
The United States is assessing the "tragic attack" and President Joe Biden will be briefed on the assassination, the White House said on Wednesday.
"We're still gathering information," White House press secretary Jen Psaki said on MSNBC. "We're still assessing right now."In the meantime, Haiti's government, under chair of the Prime Minister, will lead the country until elections of new president.
This is a developing story.