results of a clinical trial suggested that the vaccine from AstraZeneca offered little protection from mild or moderate infections caused by the Beta variant that was circulating in South Africa.

Weeks later, Johnson & Johnson and the government signed a contract for 11 million doses. South Africa ordered another 20 million doses in April. That would be enough to vaccinate about half the country.

South Africa agreed to pay $10 per dose for the 11 million shots, according to the contract. That was the same price that the United Statespaid and slightly more than the $8.50 that the European Commission agreed to pay. The South African contract prohibited the government from banning exports of the vaccine, citing the need for doses to “move freely across national borders.”

introduced export controls this year to conserve scarce supplies. India halted exports produced by the Serum Institute, which was supposed to be a major vaccine supplier to poor countries. In the United States, officials said they didn’t ban exports, but they didn’t need to. The combination of the extensive vaccine production on American soil and the high prices the U.S. government was willing to pay meant that companies made the delivery of shots for Americans a priority.

Other benefits for Johnson & Johnson were embedded in the South African contract.

While such contracts typically protect companies from lawsuits brought by individuals, this one shielded Johnson & Johnson from suits by a wider range of parties, including the government. It also imposed an unusually high burden on potential litigants to show that any injuries caused by the vaccine were the direct result of company representatives engaging in deliberate misconduct or failing to follow manufacturing best practices.

“The upshot is that you have moved almost all of the risk of something being wrong with the vaccine to the government,” said Sam Halabi, a health law expert at Georgetown University who reviewed sections of the South African contract at the request of The Times.

Mr. Halabi said the contract’s terms appeared more favorable to the pharmaceutical company than other Covid vaccine contracts he had seen. South African officials have said Pfizer, too, sought aggressive legal protections.

The contract said Johnson & Johnson would aim to deliver 2.8 million doses to South Africa by the end of June, another 4.1 million doses by the end of September and another 4.1 million doses by the end of December. (The government expects the 20 million additional doses to be delivered by the end of this year, Mr. Maja said.)

The company has so far fallen far short of those goals. As of the end of June, South Africa had received only about 1.5 million of the doses from its order. The small number of doses that have been delivered to the African Union were on schedule.

The difficulties in procuring doses have revealed the limits of fill-and-finish sites, which leave countries dependent on vaccines from places like the European Union or the United States, said Dr. Salim Abdool Karim, who until March was co-chairman of South Africa’s ministerial advisory committee on Covid.

“Ultimately,” he said, “the solution to our problem has to be in making our own vaccines.”

Lynsey Chutel and Choe Sang-Hun contributed reporting.

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Germany Will Offer Vaccine Booster Shots Starting in September

BERLIN — As concerns grow over the highly contagious Delta variant of the coronavirus, Germany on Monday became the biggest Western country yet to announce that it will offer vaccine booster shots to a wide range of people considered potentially vulnerable, adding to growing momentum in rich nations to give additional shots to fully vaccinated people.

The move by Germany came even as a top European Union official criticized the bloc as falling far short of its promises to donate vaccine doses to Africa and Latin America. And with a limited global vaccine supply, health experts say the top priorities should be distributing doses to poor countries that lag far behind in inoculations, and persuading vaccine-resistant people in wealthy countries to get their first shots.

There is also still no consensus among scientists on the need for booster shots, but as fears rise of more pandemic waves and more costly lockdowns, a growing number of countries are preparing to give their people booster doses — or have already started.

Starting in September, Germany, Europe’s largest economy, wants to administer a booster of the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccine to older people, residents of care homes, and people with compromised immune systems — and also to anyone who was already fully vaccinated with the two-dose AstraZeneca or single-dose Johnson & Johnson shots, which clinical trials have shown are not as highly protective.

an early leader in vaccination, began administering boosters to people 60 and older last week. A month ago, Russia made additional shots available to anyone six months after inoculation, and on Sunday, Hungary began offering them four months post-vaccination.

France is offering them only to those with weak immune systems, and plans to give them this fall to those who were the first to be vaccinated early this year — mostly people over 75 and those with serious health problems.

government advisers recommended in late June that everyone over 50 should be eligible but said the priority should be getting the shots to people over 70, health workers, nursing home residents, and younger adults with immune problems or other serious vulnerabilities.

increasingly think that vulnerable populations may need additional shots even as research continues into how long the vaccines remain effective. Some people have already obtained boosters simply by not revealing previous vaccination.

But as governments, terrified of another surge in the virus, increasingly lean toward boosters, the need for them remains unclear.

Studies have indicated that immunity resulting from the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines is long-lasting, and researchers are still working to interpret recent Israeli data suggesting a decline in efficacy of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine months after inoculation.

although the vaccine remains powerfully effective against severe disease and death.

Experts were divided on the utility of booster shots so soon after vaccination began. Experience with other diseases indicates that older people and those with weak immune systems might benefit, but there is little hard evidence with the coronavirus.

“The problem here is, we’re just sort of going on immunological priors, rather than really great data to justify things one way or the other,” said Deepta Bhattacharya, an immunologist at the University of Arizona. “I totally understand the decision, but I think we have to acknowledge that there’s a wide range of uncertainty on what it’s going to do.”

Booster doses may help some people with weak immune systems, but others may show little improvement even after a third dose, and still others may not need a booster at all, scientists say.

While dozens of mostly wealthy countries, including the United States and most of Europe, have administered more than 100 doses per 100 people, many other nations remain below five per 100 — primarily in Africa, where cases have soared as the Delta variant spreads.

Doctors Without Borders said recently that it would be “unconscionable” to give booster doses in richer nations before people in poorer ones get their first doses.

“Wealthy governments shouldn’t be prioritizing giving third doses when much of the developing world hasn’t even yet had the chance to get their first Covid-19 shots,” Kate Elder, the senior vaccines policy adviser at Doctors Without Borders’ Access Campaign, said in a statement.

a so-called vector vaccine, like AstraZeneca or Johnson & Johnson.

It is the latest sign that governments are encouraging their citizens to mix and match vaccines in the hope of provoking a more protective immune response against Covid-19. Early results from a British vaccine study showed that volunteers produced high levels of antibodies and immune cells after getting one dose each of the Pfizer-BioNTech and AstraZeneca-Oxford shots.

The new German guidelines announced Monday also went a step further in encouraging parents to vaccinate children between 12 and 17, announcing that doctors and vaccination centers across the country would make the jab available to them before the start of the new school year.

Health ministers stopped short of making a formal recommendation for vaccinating children, but the move made plain their impatience with Germany’s Standing Committee on Vaccinations, which has so far refrained from guiding parents one way or the other, pending more data becoming available.

Vaccinating children “is one building block to allow a safe start into the new school year after the summer vacation,” Mr. Holetschek said.

Apoorva Mandavilli contributed reporting from New York, Benjamin Mueller from London, Aurelien Breeden from Paris, Gaia Pianigiani from Rome, Monika Pronczuk from Brussels, Raphael Minder from Madrid and Thomas Erdbrink from Amsterdam.

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This Ethiopian Road Is a Lifeline for Millions. Now It’s Blocked.

AFAR, Ethiopia — The road, a 300-mile strip of tarmac that passes through some of the most inhospitable terrain on earth, is the only way into a conflict-torn region where millions of Ethiopians face the threat of mass starvation.

But it is a fragile lifeline, fraught with dangers that have made the route barely passable for aid convoys trying to get humanitarian supplies into the Tigray region, where local fighters have been battling the Ethiopian army for eight months.

the world’s worst humanitarian crisis in a decade.

wrote on Twitter. “People are starving.”

Ethiopian prime minister, Abiy Ahmed, who won the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize, said last week that his government was providing “unfettered humanitarian access” and committed to “the safe delivery of critical supplies to its people in the Tigray region.”

But Mr. Abiy’s ministers have publicly accused aid workers of helping and even arming the Tigrayan fighters, drawing a robust denial from one U.N. agency. And senior aid officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity to avoid jeopardizing their operations, said the government’s stated commitment to enable aid deliveries was belied by its actions on the ground.

Aid workers have been harassed at airports or, in the case of a World Food Program official last weekend, have died inside Tigray for want of immediate medical care.

Tigrayan fighters had marched into the regional capital, Mekelle, hours after beleaguered Ethiopian soldiers quit the city. The city airport was shut, so the only way out of Tigray was on a slow-moving U.N. convoy that took the same desolate route out as the fleeing Ethiopian soldiers.

We drove down a rocky escarpment on a road scarred by tank tracks. As we descended into the plains of Afar, the temperature quickly rose.

publicized the flight but made no mention of the delays or harassment — an omission that privately angered several U.N. officials and other aid workers who said it followed a pattern of U.N. agencies being unwilling to publicly criticize the Ethiopian authorities.

Further complicating the aid effort: The war is now spilling into Afar.

In the past week Tigrayan forces have pushed into the region. In response Mr. Abiy mobilized ethnic militias from other regions to counter the offensive.

Mr. Abiy has also resorted to increasingly inflammatory language — referring to Tigrayan leaders as “cancer” and “weeds” in need of removal — that foreign officials view as a possible tinder for a new wave of ethnic violence across the country.

Ms. Billene, his spokeswoman, dismissed those fears as “alarmist.” The Ethiopian leader had “clearly been referring to a terrorist organization and not the people of Tigray,” she said.

Inside Tigray, the most pressing priority is to reopen the road to Afar.

“This is a desperate, desperate situation,” said Lorraine Sweeney of Support Africa Foundation, a charity that shelters about 100 pregnant women displaced by fighting in the Tigrayan city of Adigrat.

Ms. Sweeney, who is based in Ireland, said she had fielded calls from panicked staff members appealing for help to feed the women, all of whom are at least eight months pregnant.

“It brings me back to famine times in Ireland,” Ms. Sweeney said. “This is crazy stuff in this day and age.”

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Tunisia’s Democracy Verges on Collapse as President Moves to Take Control

CAIRO — Tunisia’s fledgling democracy, the only one remaining from the popular revolutions that swept the Arab world a decade ago, trembled on the brink of collapse Monday after its president sought to seize power from the rest of the government in what his political opponents denounced as a coup.

The president, Kais Saied, who announced the power grab late Sunday, did not appear to have completely succeeded in taking control as of Monday evening, as chaos enveloped the North African country. But many Tunisians expressed support for him and even jubilation over his actions, frustrated with an economy that never seemed to improve and a pandemic that has battered hospitals in recent weeks.

With Syria, Yemen and Libya undone by civil war, Egypt’s attempt at democracy crushed by a counterrevolution and protests in the Gulf States quickly extinguished, Tunisia was the only country to emerge from the Arab Spring revolutions with a democracy, if a fragile one.

But the nation where the uprisings began now finds even the remnants of its revolutionary ideals in doubt, posing a major test for the Biden administration’s commitment to democratic principles abroad.

statement. Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken, in a phone call Monday with Mr. Saied, encouraged him “to adhere to the principles of democracy and human rights,” a spokesman said.

Defying the Tunisian president, the prime minister, Hichem Mechichi, said he would hold a cabinet meeting even after Mr. Saied announced the dismissal of him and several ministers. Parts of Parliament said they would meet virtually even as soldiers cordoned off the Parliament building.

But the danger remained that Mr. Saied would back up his power grab with greater force, whether by further deploying the military or arresting top officials.

“This is a very concerning development that puts the democracy at great risk of unraveling,” said Safwan M. Masri, executive vice president of Columbia University’s Global Centers network, who studies Tunisia. Referring to Mr. Saied, he said: “An optimistic scenario would be that the Parliament and the Constitution and democratic institutions would prevail and that he would be forced out of office. But I would not bet any money on it.”

Already, the president has announced that he was assuming the public prosecutor’s powers and stripping lawmakers of immunity.

whether the revolution was worth it.

Protests and strikes frequently racked the country, and popular discontent widened the gap between elites who praised Tunisia’s democratic gains and Tunisians who simply wanted to improve their lot.

The coronavirus pandemic made things worse by devastating Tunisia’s tourist industry, an important economic engine. The virus has shaken the government and the health system even further in recent weeks as Tunisians have died of Covid-19 at the highest rate in the Middle East and Africa.

On Sunday, demonstrators across Tunisia called for the dissolution of Parliament, giving Mr. Saied some popular cover to announce that night that he was firing Mr. Mechichi, freezing Parliament for 30 days and assuming executive authority.

Tarek Megerisi, a senior fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations. “They blame them for all the country’s problems and think that they need to be removed.”

The showdown was a long time coming, with Mr. Saied locked since his election in political infighting with Mr. Mechichi and the speaker of Parliament, Rachid Ghannouchi.

Mr. Saied has been hinting for months at expanding his authority by refusing to swear in ministers and blocking formation of a constitutional court, raising alarm among opponents and political analysts.

In response to chaos in Tunisia’s Covid-19 vaccination rollout last week and a surge in cases that has overwhelmed hospitals, Mr. Saied stripped control of Tunisia’s coronavirus response from the Health Ministry and handed it to the military.

On Sunday night, Mr. Saied cited Article 80 of the Constitution, which he said permits the president exceptional powers. He said he had consulted both Mr. Mechichi and Mr. Ghannouchi and held an emergency meeting with other officials before acting.

Mr. Saied said he was doing so to preserve the country’s “security and independence and to protect the normal operation of state institutions.”

Article 80, however, accords the president such powers only if the country faces an imminent threat and only after the prime minister and parliament speaker have been consulted. Mr. Ghannouchi denied that he had been.

In a statement, Mr. Ghannouchi deplored what he called a “coup” and described the suspension of Parliament as “unconstitutional, illegal and invalid.” The assembly “remains in place and will fulfill its duty,” he said.

In a televised statement, Mr. Saied said, “This is not a suspension of the Constitution.” And he sounded an ominous warning to adversaries: “Whoever fires a single bullet, our armed and security forces will retaliate with a barrage of bullets.”

Videos posted to social media showed crowds cheering, honking, ululating and waving Tunisian flags after the president’s actions Sunday night, the dark night lit up by red flares. Other videos showed Mr. Saied wending through cheering supporters along the main thoroughfare of Tunis, where revolutionaries gathered during the 2011 protests.

The next step for Tunisia is unclear. The country has so far failed to form the constitutional court, called for in the 2014 Constitution, that could adjudicate such disputes.

In his statement, Mr. Saied said cryptically that a decree would soon be issued “regulating these exceptional measures that the circumstances have dictated.” Those measures, he said, “will be lifted when those circumstances change.” He also fired the defense minister and acting justice minister on Monday afternoon.

Tunisia’s divisions reflect a wider split in the Middle East between regional powers that supported the Arab revolutions and the political Islamist groups that came to power at the time (Turkey and Qatar), and those that countered the uprisings (Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt). While Turkey and Qatar expressed concern on Monday, the others remained quiet.

Reporting was contributed by Nada Rashwan from Cairo, Lilia Blaise and Massinissa Benlakehal from Tunis, and Michael Crowley from Washington.

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How Local Guerrilla Fighters Routed Ethiopia’s Powerful Army

A scrappy force of local Tigrayan recruits scored a cascade of battlefield victories against the Ethiopian military, one of Africa’s strongest. Times journalists witnessed the decisive week in an eight-month civil war.


SAMRE, Ethiopia — The Tigrayan fighters whooped, whistled and pointed excitedly to a puff of smoke in the sky, where an Ethiopian military cargo plane trundling over the village minutes earlier had been struck by a missile.

Smoke turned to flames as the stricken aircraft broke in two and hurtled toward the ground. Later, in a stony field strewn with smoking wreckage, villagers picked through twisted metal and body parts. For the Tigrayan fighters, it was a sign.

“Soon we’re going to win,” said Azeb Desalgne, a 20-year-old with an AK-47 over her shoulder.

The downing of the plane on June 22 offered bracing evidence that the conflict in the Tigray region in northern Ethiopia was about to take a seismic turn. A Tigrayan guerrilla army had been fighting to drive out the Ethiopian military for eight months in a civil war marked by atrocities and starvation. Now the fight seemed to be turning in their favor.

The war erupted in November, when a simmering feud between Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and Tigrayan leaders, members of a small ethnic minority who had dominated Ethiopia for much of the three previous decades, exploded into violence.

airstrike had struck a crowded village market that day, killing dozens. We watched as the first casualties arrived at Mekelle’s largest hospital.

Days later, three aid workers from Doctors Without Borders were brutally murdered by unknown assailants.

In the countryside, the war was moving at a furious pace. Ethiopian military positions fell like dominoes. Hours after the Tigrayans shot down the military cargo plane, we reached a camp holding several thousand newly captured Ethiopian soldiers, about 30 miles south of Mekelle.

Clustered behind a barbed wire fence, the prisoners erupted into applause when we stepped from our vehicle — hoping, they later explained, that we were Red Cross workers.

Some were wounded, others barefoot — Tigrayans confiscated their boots as well as their guns, they said — and many pleaded for help. “We have badly wounded soldiers here,” said Meseret Asratu, 29, a platoon commander.

Further along the road was the battlefield where others had died. The bodies of Ethiopian soldiers were scattered across a rocky field, untouched since a fight four days earlier, now swelling in the afternoon sun.

Personal items cast aside nearby, amid empty ammunition boxes and abandoned uniforms, hinted at young lives interrupted: dog-eared photos of loved ones, but also university certificates, chemistry textbooks and sanitary pads — a reminder that women fight on both sides of the conflict.

Stragglers were still being rounded up. The next day, Tigrayan fighters marched five just-captured prisoners up a hill, where they slumped to the ground, exhausted.

Dawit Toba, a glum 20-year-old from the Oromia region of Ethiopia, said he had surrendered without firing a shot. War in Tigray was not like he had imagined it. “We were told there would be fighting,” he said. “But when we got here it was looting, robbery, attacks on women.”

“This war was not necessary,” he added. “Mistakes have been made.”

Driving off, we came across a figure sprawled on the roadside — an Ethiopian, stripped of his uniform, with several bullet wounds to his leg. He groaned softly.

The wounded soldier appeared to have been dumped there, although it wasn’t clear by whom. We drove him back to the prisoner camp, where Ethiopian medics did some basic treatment on the ground outside a school. Nobody was sure if he would survive.

Artillery boomed in the distance. The Tigrayan offensive was continuing to the north, using captured heavy guns against the Ethiopian troops who had brought them in. A platoon of fighters walked through, bearing a wounded man on a stretcher. Teklay Tsegay, 20, watched them pass.

Before the war, Mr. Teklay was a mechanic in Adigrat, 70 miles north. Then, last February, Eritrean soldiers fired into his aunt’s house, killing her 5-year-old daughter, he said. The following day, Mr. Teklay slipped out of Adigrat to join the resistance.

“I never thought I would be a soldier,” he said. “But here I am.”

As Tigrayans quietly mustered a guerrilla army this year, they drew on their experience of fighting a brutal Marxist dictatorship in Ethiopia in the 1970s and 1980s, under the flag of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front.

Then, Tigrayan intellectuals used Marxist ideology to bind peasant fighters to their cause, much like the Viet Cong or rebels in Angola and Mozambique.

But this time, the Tigrayan fighters are largely educated and hail from the towns and cities. And it is anger at atrocities, not Marxism, that drew them to the cause.

At the recruitment camp, instructors standing under trees gave speeches about Tigrayan culture and identity, and taught new recruits to fire an AK-47.

The wave of recruits has included doctors, university professors, white-collar professionals and diaspora Tigrayans from the United States and Europe, colleagues and friends said. Even in government-held Mekelle, recruitment grew increasingly brazen.

Two weeks ago, a T.D.F. poster appeared on a wall beside St. Gabriel’s, the city’s largest church. “Those who fail to join are as good as the walking dead,” it read. Hours later, Ethiopian soldiers arrived and tore it down.

Mulugeta Gebrehiwot Berhe, 61, a senior fellow at the World Peace Foundation at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, in Massachusetts, was visiting Mekelle when war erupted in November. I found him near the town of Samre, a leather-holstered pistol on his hip.

“I joined the resistance,” said the academic, who once helped broker a peace deal for the United Nations in Darfur. “I felt I had no other option.”

Even some Ethiopian commanders felt alienated by Mr. Abiy’s approach to the conflict.

Until late June, Col. Hussein Mohamed, a tall man with a gold-tooth smile, commanded the 11th Infantry Division in Tigray. Now he was a prisoner, held with other Ethiopian officers in a closely guarded farmhouse.

Of the 3,700 troops under his command, at least half were probably dead, said Colonel Hussein, confirming that he was speaking voluntarily. “The course of this war is political madness, to my mind,” he said.

He always had serious reservations about Mr. Abiy’s military alliance with Eritrea, Ethiopia’s old foe, he said: “They ransack properties, they rape women, they commit atrocities. The whole army is unhappy about this marriage.”

Still, Ethiopian soldiers have been accused of much the same crimes. I met Colonel Hussein in a stone-walled room, with a tin roof, as rain splattered outside. When the room’s owner, Tsehaye Berhe, arrived with a tray of coffee cups, her face clouded over.

“Take it!” she snapped at the Ethiopian officer. “I’m not serving you.”

Moments later Ms. Tsehaye returned to apologize. “I’m sorry for being emotional,” she said. “But your soldiers burned my house and stole my crops.”

Colonel Hussein nodded quietly.

Even before Ethiopian forces abandoned Mekelle on June 28, there were hints that something was afoot. The internet went down, and at the regional headquarters where Mr. Abiy had installed an interim government, I found deserted corridors and locked offices. Outside, federal police officers were slinging backpacks into a bus.

Smoke rose from the Ethiopian National Defense Forces’ headquarters in Mekelle — a pyre of burning documents, it turned out, piled high by detainees accused of supporting the T.D.F.

Weeks earlier, Ethiopian intelligence officers had tortured one of them, Yohannes Haftom, with a cattle prod. “We will burn you,” Mr. Yohannes recalled them saying. “We will bury you alive.”

But after he followed their orders to cart their confidential documents to the burn pit on June 28, the Ethiopians set Mr. Yohannes free. Hours later, the first T.D.F. fighters entered Mekelle, setting off days of raucous celebration.

Residents filled streets where young fighters paraded on vehicles like beauty queens, or leaned from speeding tuktuks spraying gunfire into the air. Nightclubs and cafes filled up, and an older woman prostrated herself at the feet of a just-arrived fighter, shouting thanks to God.

On the fourth day, fighters paraded thousands of Ethiopian prisoners through the city center, in a show of triumphalism that was a pointed rebuke to the leader of Ethiopia. “Abiy is a thief!” people chanted as dejected soldiers marched past.

The celebrations eventually reached the house where Mr. Getachew, the Tigrayan leader and T.D.F. spokesman, now descended from his mountain base, was staying.

As the whiskey flowed, Mr. Getachew juggled calls on his satellite phone while a generator rattled in the background. Mr. Abiy had once been his political ally, even his friend, he said. Now the Ethiopian leader had cut the power and phone lines to Mekelle and issued a warrant for his arrest.

Buoyed by victory, the guests excitedly discussed the next phase of their war in Tigray. One produced a cake with the Tigrayan flag that Mr. Getachew, sharing a knife with a senior commander, cut to loud cheers.

For much of his career, he had been a staunch defender of the Ethiopian state. But the war made that position untenable, he said. Now he was planning a referendum on Tigrayan independence.

“Nothing can save the Ethiopian state as we know it, except a miracle,” he said. “And I don’t usually believe in them.”

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Live Updates: Haiti Seizes U.S. Citizen, Possibly 2, in Assassination

declared an “état de siège” — a state of siege — that allows the police and members of security forces to enter homes, control traffic and take special security measures. It also forbids meetings meant to excite or prepare for disorder.

The rapidly evolving crisis deepened the turmoil and violence that has gripped Haiti for months, threatening to tip one of the world’s most troubled nations further into lawlessness. Questions swirled about who might have been behind such a brazen attack and how they eluded the president’s security detail to carry it out.

Helen La Lime, the top U.N. official in Haiti, told reporters that a group of suspects had “taken refuge in two buildings in the city and are now surrounded by police.” She spoke via teleconference from Port-au-Prince, after briefing the United Nations Security Council on the Haitian crisis in a private meeting.

Haiti’s ambassador to the United States, Bocchit Edmond, has described the assailants as “well-trained professionals, killers, commandos.”

On Wednesday, security forces engaged in a chaotic shootout with a group of what they described as suspected assailants, though they offered no evidence linking them to the attack. Officers killed four in the group and took two into custody.

On Thursday, Haiti’s police chief, Leon Charles, said that the authorities had now arrested six suspected assailants, and that three foreign nationals had been killed. Two suspects had been wounded in clashes with the police, according to Mr. Pierre.

Chief Charles also said that five vehicles that might have been used in the attack had been seized and that several of them had been burned by civilians. He said it was impossible for the police to gather evidence from inside the charred vehicles.

Social media was full of reports that could not be immediately verified, showing groups of civilians parading men with their arms tied behind their backs and men in the back of a police pickup truck.

A large crowd of people gathered in front of the police station in the Pétionville area of Port-au-Prince on Thursday morning, before Chief Charles spoke, some demanding vigilante justice for the suspects they believed to be inside. “Burn them,” some cried.

Carl Henry Destin, a Haitian judge, told the Nouvelliste newspaper that the assailants had posed as agents of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration — both U.S. and Haitian officials said that they were not associated with the D.E.A. — when they burst into the president’s private home on the outskirts of the capital around 1 a.m. on Wednesday.

Judge Destin said that a maid and another member of the household staff had been tied up by the attackers as they made their way to the president’s bedroom.

The president was shot at least 12 times, he said.

“The offices and the president’s bedroom were ransacked,” Mr. Destin said. “We found him lying on his back, blue pants, white shirt stained with blood, mouth open, left eye blown out.”

He said Mr. Moïse appeared to have been shot with both large-caliber guns and smaller 9-millimeter weapons.

The president’s wife, Martine Moïse, was injured in the assault and was rushed by air ambulance to the Ryder Trauma Center in Miami, where Mr. Joseph, the interim prime minister, said she was “out of danger” and in stable condition. Representative Frederica Wilson of Florida said at a news conference in Miami that Ms. Moïse was not the target of the attack and that, according to the U.S. State Department, “she was caught in a crossfire.”

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Martine Moïse, wife of the slain President Jovenel Moïse, was rushed to a hospital in Miami on Wednesday following the nighttime raid and attack on their home in Haiti.CreditCredit…Valerie Baeriswyl/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Ms. Wilson said the couple’s three children are in protective custody. Mr. Destin said that a daughter, Jomarlie, was at home during the attack but hid in a bedroom and escaped unharmed.

Haitians pressured the police on Thursday to hand over the bodies of two men killed in a shootout.
Credit…Joseph Odelyn/Associated Press

The official manhunt for the assassins who burst into the home of Haiti’s president continued on Thursday, but as some ordinary Haitians set out to capture suspects themselves, setting afire vehicles believed to have been used in the attack, the interim prime minister appealed for calm and to refrain from violence.

“I’m asking everyone to go to their homes,” said Claude Joseph, the interim prime minister, at a news conference Thursday afternoon. “The police have the situation under control.”

The goal, Mr. Joseph said, is to maintain security in the country and get justice for the former President Jovenel Moïse and his family.

Haiti’s police chief, Léon Charles, said over the past day the authorities had arrested six suspects. He also said police had recovered three bodies, “visibly foreigners,” as well as five vehicles believed to have been used in the assassination plot.

But several of those vehicles had been burned by citizens, he said, making it impossible for the police to gather evidence.

“We can’t have vigilante justice,” Mr. Charles said. “Let us do our work. Help us do our work.”

But passions were high on the streets of Pétionville, an affluent suburb of the capital close to where the president lived. A large crowd of people gathered in front of the police station there, demanding to hear from the police chief about the assassins — some of whom were believed to be inside.

Some demanded street justice.

“Burn them,” they cried.

Later, drifting away from the police station, some took their anger into nearby streets, at one point attacking a car dealership. Two protesters were arrested by the police.

A video shared widely on social media shows a crowd of more than 30 Haitians pulling light-skinned men through the footpaths of a dense neighborhood. One of the men was shirtless and had his arms tied with a rope behind his back. The people in the crowd, who appeared to be unarmed, brought the men to the police station, sources told The New York Times.

The police were also surrounding two buildings in which suspects in the assassination had holed up, Helen La Lime, the top U.N. official in Haiti, said at a news conference.

One of the suspects arrested in Haiti is an American citizen of Haitian descent from South Florida, said Haiti’s minister of elections, Mathias Pierre.

On Thursday, just a day after declaring a “state of siege” and a curfew, Mr. Joseph, the interim prime minister, asked people to return to work and said he planned to reopen the country’s main airport.

Reporting contributed from Andre Paulte and Harold Isaac in Haiti.

President Jovenel Moïse, center,  with his wife, Martine, and the interim prime minister, Claude Joseph, at a ceremony in the Haitian capital,Port-au-Prince, in May.
Credit…Joseph Odelyn/Associated Press

An already turbulent political landscape in Haiti threatened to descend into further turmoil on Thursday as a power struggle between two competing prime ministers stoked tensions after the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse.

In the hours after the killing, the country’s interim prime minister, Claude Joseph, said he was in charge, taking command of the police and army in what he cast as an effort to ensure order and stability. Mr. Joseph declared a “state of siege” for 15 days, essentially putting the country under martial law, though constitutional experts were unsure whether he has the legal authority to do so.

It was not even clear whether he was really still prime minister.

Two days before his death, Mr. Moïse appointed a new prime minister, Ariel Henry, a neurosurgeon and politician, who was supposed to take up the role this week.

In an interview with The Nouvelliste, a newspaper, Mr. Henry said that Mr. Joseph was “no longer prime minister” and claimed the right to run the government.

“I am a prime minister with a decree that was passed in my favor,” Mr. Henry said, adding that he had been in the process of forming his government.

Mr. Henry said that he “did not want to add fuel to the fire,” but he criticized Mr. Joseph’s decision to impose a state of siege and called for dialogue to ensure a smooth political transition.

President Moïse himself had faced questions about his legitimacy.

For more than year, he had been ruling by decree. Many, including prominent jurists, contended that his term ended in February. Haiti had been rocked by protests against his rule, and also suffered a surge in gang activity that undercut the legitimacy of the government.

Now, there is a new political struggle, and it threatens to undermine the legitimacy either man would need to effectively lead the police, the army and the country itself.

Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken spoke with Mr. Joseph on Wednesday, the State Department said, offering condolences and offering to assist the country “in support of the Haitian people and democratic governance, peace, and security.” Mr. Joseph, speaking at a news conference on Wednesday evening portrayed the conversation as lasting more than 30 minutes.

“We talked about security, elections and a political accord,” he said.

Adding to the challenges for a government in crisis, Haiti, a parliamentary democracy, has no functioning Parliament. There are currently only 10 sitting senators out of 30; the terms of the other 20 have expired. The entire lower house is no longer sitting, because the representatives terms expired last year. Long-planned elections were scheduled for later this year, but it was unclear when or whether they would take place.

The president of what remains of the Haitian Senate, Joseph Lambert, put out a news release on Thursday morning, saying that the Senate “reassures Haitians and the international community that everything will be managed by the national institutions, political forces and civil society to guarantee the continuity of the state and the republican order.”

A Haitian political analyst, Monique Clesca, said that Mr. Moïse had avoided opportunities to hold national elections, and that when the terms of the country’s mayors expired in January, he had installed his own supporters in those positions.

“The objective was always to be the supreme ruler,” Ms. Clesca said. “Eventually to be able to control the whole political apparatus.”

Haiti has a long history of political instability. The country has been rocked by a series of coups in the 20th and 21st centuries, often backed by Western powers, and has been marked by frequent leadership crises that have driven Haitians into the streets in protest.

While the United States and other nations have long supplied Haiti with much-needed aid and financial assistance, including help in recovering from a devastating earthquake in 2010, Western powers have also exerted an overwhelming influence over the country’s political destiny. The United States occupied the country from 1915 to 1934.

France has had a particularly long and difficult relationship with Haiti. More than two centuries ago, Haitians fought to throw off the yoke of colonial France and to bring an end to one of the world’s most brutal slave colonies.

Jacky Dahomay, a French philosopher who served on a French government-mandated commission on relations with Haiti, faulted France and other international actors for failing to help the country establish “truly democratic institutions.” In an interview, he said that only “the law of the strongest” was working in Haiti at the moment and called for the “an international intervention force to restore order.”

News Analysis

U.S. soldiers delivering aid from the World Food Program to Jabouin, Haiti, after Hurricane Matthew destroyed dozens of villages in 2016.
Credit…Meridith Kohut for The New York Times

There are failed states. And then there is Haiti.

The Caribbean nation is better described as what one analyst once called an “aid state.” It ekes out an existence with the help of billions of dollars from the international community.

The country’s struggles have long captured the world’s attention, but they have not occurred in a vacuum: Outside nations have played a major role, through the brutal exploitation of the past and years of political interference. But damage has also been done by their efforts to help.

Over the past decade, the international community has pumped $13 billion of aid into the country, afraid to let Haiti fail. But the nation-building that aid was meant to support never came about. Instead, Haiti’s institutions became further hollowed out.

The funds stripped leaders of the incentive to carry out the institutional reforms necessary to rebuild the country. Instead, analysts and Haitian activists say, the leaders learned to bet that in times of crisis — and the country has had many — international governments would open their wallets.

For years, the aid has provided vital services and supplies, but it has also bred corruption and violence, and left political paralysis unchecked.

Some Haitian civil society leaders contend, the United States, a large provider of aid, has propped up strongmen and tied the fate of the nation to them.

“Since 2018, we have been asking for accountability,” Emmanuela Douyon, a Haitian policy expert who gave testimony to the U.S. Congress this year, said in an interview. “We need the international community to stop imposing what they think is correct and instead think about the long term and stability.”

Members of Montreal’s Haitian diaspora holding an anti-Moïse demonstration outside the Haitian consulate in March.
Credit…Nasuna Stuart-Ulin for The New York Times

Many Haitians in the diaspora are fearing the worst after the assassination of the country’s president, Jovenel Moïse, an act of violence that many consider a potent symbol of the mayhem experienced in the Caribbean nation in recent months.

Rodney Saint-Éloi, a Haitian-Canadian poet and publisher in Montreal, said the assassination of Mr. Moïse was a blow to democracy in Haiti. “It turns all Haitians into assassins, because he was, like it or not, the president of all Haitians,” he said. “It is the failure of a society and of an elite who helped get us to this point.”

Mr. Moïse, killed in an attack early Wednesday on the outskirts of the capital, Port-au-Prince, had presided over a country buffeted by instability, endemic corruption and gang violence. His refusal to cede power had angered Haitians the world over, and many in the diaspora had put off trips home for the past year as kidnappings and other acts of violence became more commonplace.

Because of its chronic instability, Haiti has a large diaspora, with some of the largest communities based in the United States, Canada, France and the Dominican Republic. About 1.2 million Haitians or people of Haitian origin live in the United States, according to 2018 data from the U.S. Census Bureau. But the figure is thought to be higher because of a sizable number of immigrants who are in the country without documentation.

Frantz André, a leading Haitian rights advocate in Montreal, organized a protest in March in which dozens of Haitians demonstrated against what they called Mr. Moise’s political repression. He described Mr. Moïse as a deeply polarizing figure and said that other Haitians abroad were feeling mixed emotions about the president’s killing.

“I don’t think it would be wise to scream victory at his assassination, because we don’t know what will come after and the situation could be even more precarious,” Mr. André said. “Educated people saw him as a threat to democracy, and others have been protesting against him because they have nothing to eat.”

Mr. André added that a sizable minority had supported Mr. Moïse and saw him as a catalyst for change, because he had promoted the idea of giving Haitians outside the country the right to vote and was pushing to change the Constitution.

The Haitian security forces are engaged in what the authorities described as a sweeping manhunt for suspects in the killing of President Jovenel Moïse. Four people were killed, and two more taken into custody after a shootout late Wednesday.

An ambulance carrying the body of President Jovenel Moise in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, on Wednesday.
Credit…Reuters

With security forces still hunting for the killers and investigators combing through the evidence from the scene of his assassination, the body of Haiti’s slain president, Jovenel Moïse, was loaded onto an ambulance on Wednesday, bound for a morgue.

A procession of cars was seen speeding away from the presidential residence, but things apparently did not go as planned: Encountering a highway blocked by tires, and hearing gunfire, observers said, the drivers made a quick turnaround.

They needed another route.

The same could be said for Haiti itself on Thursday, a day after its president was shot by a team of assassins described as “well-trained professionals” who had stormed his home on the outskirts of the capital, Port-au-Prince, and then disappeared into the night.

Now, an interim prime minister whose legitimacy was already under question — a replacement was named before the assassination — has declared himself in charge, and put the country under a Haitian version of martial law.

Parliament is riddled with vacancies and inactive. And a country steeped in violence is poised for things to get worse. Late Wednesday, prolonged gunfire could be heard in Port-au-Prince.

“It’s a very grave situation,” said Georges Michel, a Haitian historian and constitutional expert.

The interim prime minister, Claude Joseph, appealed for calm. “Let’s search for harmony to advance together, so the country doesn’t fall into chaos,” he said in a televised address to the nation.

But the country has learned the hard way over the decades, through earthquake and disease, poverty and political turbulence, that chaos feels always near at hand.

“I don’t know what’s going to happen now,” one man said as neighbors gathered to exchange news. “Everything is possible.”

Andre Paultre contributed reporting.

Haiti’s capital, Port-au-Prince, in 2017.
Credit…Daniel Berehulak for The New York Times

Haiti has been thwarted by outside interests from its very foundation as a country.

For decades, European powers, and later the United States, refused to recognize it as an independent republic.

The Caribbean nation became the world’s first Black-led republic when it declared its independence from France on New Year’s Day 1804. That day, Saint-Domingue, once France’s richest colony, known as the “Pearl of the Antilles,” became Haiti.

It was a land long coveted for its riches of sugar, coffee and cotton, brought to market by enslaved people. Its declaration of independence meant that, for the first time, a brutally enslaved people had wrenched their freedom from colonial masters. But it came only after decades of bloody war.

In 1825, more than two decades after independence, the king of France, Charles X, sent warships to the capital, Port-au-Prince, and forced Haiti to compensate former French colonists for their lost property.

Haiti, unable to pay the hefty sum, was forced into a debt that it had to shoulder for nearly a century. Throughout the 19th century, a period marked by political and economic instability, the country invested little in its infrastructure or education.

In 1915, U.S. troops invaded after a mob killed the Haitian president.

The United States later justified its occupation as an attempt to restore order and prevent what it said was a looming invasion by French or German forces. But U.S. troops reintroduced forced labor on road-construction projects and were later accused of extrajudicial killings.

The widely unpopular occupation ended in 1934, but U.S. control over Haiti’s finances lasted until 1947.

After a series of midcentury coups, the Duvalier family, father-and-son dictators, reigned over Haiti with brute force until the 1980s. Their regime plunged Haiti deeper into debt, and introduced the so-called Tontons Macoutes, an infamous secret police force that terrorized the country.

In the early 1990s, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, a former Roman Catholic priest, was elected president. He was then ousted twice from power over the next 15 years.

Mr. Aristide preached liberation theology, and threatened the establishment by promising economic reforms. After a first coup, he was restored to power. But he left the presidency for good after a second coup in 2004, which was supported by the United States and France. He was exiled to the Central African Republic and, later, to South Africa.

Haiti, with a population of 11 million, is considered the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere.

In 2010, it suffered a devastating earthquake that claimed the lives of about 300,000 people. The country never really recovered, and it has remained mired in economic underdevelopment and insecurity. A cholera outbreak in 2016, linked to U.N. peacekeepers, killed at least 10,000 Haitians and sickened another 800,000.

Then early Wednesday, Jovenel Moïse, who became president in 2017, was assassinated at his residence.

A police officer standing guard outside the presidential residence in Port-au-Prince on Wednesday.
Credit…Valerie Baeriswyl/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Not long after Haiti’s president was shot to death by assassins who burst into his home early Wednesday, the country’s interim prime minister announced that he had declared an “état de siège” — a state of siege.

To many people around the world watching with alarm as events unfold in Haiti, the term was unfamiliar, even baffling.

But things grew a little clearer when the interim prime minister, Claude Joseph, published details of the order in the official government journal, Le Moniteur.

Haiti is now basically under martial law. For 15 days, the police and members of the security forces can enter homes, control traffic and take special security measures and “all general measures that permit the arrest of the assassins” of President Jovenel Moïse. It also forbids meetings meant to excite or prepare for disorder.

There is one wrinkle. Or two, really.

Only Parliament has the power to declare a state of siege, said Georges Michel, a Haitian historian and constitutional expert. But Haiti at this moment has no functional Parliament. The terms of the entire lower house expired more than a year ago, and only 10 of Haiti’s 30 Senate seats are currently filled.

“Legally, he can’t do this,” Mr. Michel said. “We are in a state of necessity.”

There are actually a few other wrinkles.

Mr. Joseph’s term as interim prime minister is about to end and, in fact, President Moïse had already appointed a replacement, his sixth since taking office.

“We are in total confusion,” said Jacky Lumarque, rector of Quisqueya Universty, a large private university in Port-au-Prince. “We have two prime ministers. We can’t say which is more legitimate than the other.”

It gets worse.

Haiti also appears to have two Constitutions, and the dueling documents say different things about what to do if a president dies in office.

The 1987 version — published in both national languages, Creole and French — deems that if the presidency is vacant for any reason, the country’s most senior judge should step in.

In 2012, however, the Constitution was amended, and the new one directed that the president should be replaced by a council of ministers, under the guidance of the prime minister. Except if, as was Mr. Moïse’s situation, the president was in the fourth year of office. In that case, Parliament would vote for a provisional president. If, of course, there were a Parliament.

Unfortunately, that Constitution was amended in French, but not in Creole. So as it stands, the country has two Constitutions.

“Things are unclear,” said Mr. Michel, who helped write the 1987 Constitution. “It’s a very grave situation.”

Mr. Lumarque lamented the state of his country.

“This is the first time where we’ve seen that the state is so weak,” he said. “There is no Parliament. A dysfunctional Senate. The head of the Supreme Court just died. Jovenel Moïse was the last legitimate power in the country’s governance.”

A street market in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, last month.
Credit…Joseph Odelyn/Associated Press

The assassination of President Jovenel Moïse of Haiti on Wednesday could complicate efforts to contain the Covid-19 pandemic in the Caribbean nation, which has yet to begin vaccinating its citizens, officials from the World Health Organization warned.

Carissa Etienne, the director of the Pan American Health Organization, which is part of the W.H.O., said her organization had made Haiti a priority in recent weeks as reported cases have surged.

“I am hopeful that the arrival of vaccines in the country can start to turn the tide of the pandemic and bring some relief to the Haitian people during these very difficult times,” Dr. Etienne said. “We continue to stand with them now and will redouble our efforts.”

Haiti did not experience the kind of surge early in the pandemic that many experts feared could devastate the country, the poorest in the Western Hemisphere. But the pandemic has grown worse in recent weeks, with a rise in reported cases that experts say is almost certainly an undercount, considering the country’s limited testing capacity.

Last month, Covid-19 claimed the life of René Sylvestre, the president of Haiti’s Supreme Court — a leading figure who might have helped to establish order in the wake of an assassination that has plunged the country into even deeper political uncertainty.

Dr. Etienne’s organization said in an email that while it was too soon to evaluate the impact of the assassination, “further deterioration of the security situation in Haiti could have a negative impact on the work that has been done to curtail Covid-19 infections,” as well as on vaccination plans.

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President Jovenel Moïse of Haiti was killed in an attack at his private residence on the outskirts of the capital, Port-au-Prince.CreditCredit…Andres Martinez Casares/Reuters

The organization said that Haiti was also facing challenges from the start of hurricane season and the recent detection of the Alpha and Gamma virus variants on the island. Though “vaccines are expected to arrive shortly” in Haiti, the organization said it did not have a specific delivery date.

In June, Dr. Etienne urged the global community to do more to help Haiti cope with rising coronavirus cases and deaths. “The situation we’re seeing in Haiti is a cautionary tale in just how quickly things can change with this virus,” she said.

Haiti is an extreme example of the “stark inequities on vaccine access,” Dr. Etienne said. “For every success, there are several countries that have been unable to reach even the most vulnerable in their population.”

Across Latin America and the Caribbean, there are millions of people who “still don’t know when they will have a chance to be immunized,” she said.

She said the inequitable distribution of vaccines posed practical and moral problems.

“If we don’t ensure that countries in the South have the ability to vaccinate as much as countries in the North, this virus will keep circulating in the poorest nations for years to come,” Dr. Etienne said. “Hundreds of millions will remain at risk while the wealthier nations go back to normal. Obviously, this should not happen.”

Haitian Foreign Minister Claude Joseph during an interview, February 2021 in Port-au-Prince, Haiti.
Credit…Orlando Barríia/EPA, via Shutterstock

The top United Nations official in Haiti told reporters Thursday that she considered Claude Joseph, the interim prime minister, the person in charge of the country in the aftermath of President Jovenel Moïse’s assassination.

The assertion by the official, Helen La Lime, the head of the United Nations Integrated Office in Haiti, carries weight concerning the question over who is legally authorized to be running the country of 11 million. A former American diplomat, she spoke remotely via teleconference from Port-au-Prince, the capital, after briefing the United Nations Security Council about the Haitian crisis in a private meeting.

Mr. Joseph was supposed to be replaced this week by Ariel Henry, who had been appointed prime minister by Mr. Moïse two days before his assassination. But hours after the killing of the president early Wednesday, Mr. Joseph assumed leadership of Haiti, taking command of the police and army in what he said was an effort to ensure order and stability.

Mr. Henry’s confirmation as prime minister “did not happen,” Ms. La Lime said, and Mr. Joseph “continues to govern,” under Article 149 of the country’s 1987 Constitution.

At the same time, she said, “there are certainly people on all sides of the issue who have different interpretations of Article 149, and that is why it’s important to have a dialogue.”

Ms. La Lime stressed Mr. Joseph’s contention that he intended to hold elections later this year. The country’s Parliament is not functioning, as many members’ terms expired last year, and Mr. Moïse had come under international criticism for failing to call elections.

Ms. La Lime also said that Haiti’s government had made a “request for transitional security assistance” from the United Nations, which once deployed thousands of peacekeepers in the country but withdrew them a few years ago. “Haiti needs to specify what it’s after,” she said.

Regarding the killers of Mr. Moïse, Ms. La Lime said “all efforts must be made to bring these perpetrators to justice.”

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Live Updates: Haiti’s President Is Assassinated, and Interim Prime Minister Declares ‘State of Siege’

he told The New York Times in 2016, shortly after winning his election, trying to flick off the accusations. He promised to show results within six months.

After more than four years in office, he was gunned down in his home early Wednesday at the age of 53. He left a wife and three children.

In his last year in office, as protests grew and he declined to step down, he had to defend himself in other ways: “I am not a dictator,” he told The Times in February.

So who was he?

Mr. Moïse was a former chamber of commerce leader when he ran for president. Few people had heard of him as he emerged as a leading candidate. They dubbed him “the Banana Man.”

He won a majority of votes cast in a crowded field where few people bothered to cast ballots.

In interviews, Mr. Moïse often recounted how he grew up on a large sugar plantation and could relate to a vast majority of Haitians who live off the land. He was raised in a rural area in the north but attended school in the capital, Port-au-Prince. He said he learned how to succeed by watching his father’s profitable farming business.

“Since I was a child, I was always wondering why people were living in such conditions while enormous lands were empty,” he said. “I believe agriculture is the key to change for this country.”

He ran a large produce cooperative that employed 3,000 farmers.

During his time in office, Mr. Moïse was often accused of being a strongman who tried to consolidate power. He tried to push through a new Constitution that would have given his office more power and presidents the ability to seek more terms in office. Those plans were derailed by Covid-19 and rising insecurity.

In a dispute over when his term should end, he declined to step down and ruled by decree as the terms of nearly every elected official in the country expired and no elections were held. He was accused of working with gangs to remain in power.

Even his critics agree that Mr. Moïse used his power in office to try to end monopolies that offered lucrative contracts to the powerful elite. And that made him enemies.

“To some he was a corrupt leader, but to others he was a reformer,” said Leonie Hermatin, a Haitian community leader in Miami. “He was a man who was trying to change the power dynamics, particularly when it came to money and who had control over electricity contracts. The oligarchy was paid billions of dollars to provide electricity to a country that was still in the dark.”

Simon Desras, a former senator in Haiti, said Mr. Moïse seemed to know that his battle against the wealthy and powerful interests in the country would get him killed.

“I remember in his speech, he said he just targeted the rich people by putting an end to their contracts. He said that could be the reason for his death, because they are used to assassinating people and pushing people into exile,” Mr. Desras said in a telephone interview, as he drove through Haiti’s deserted streets. “It’s like he made a prophecy.”

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The normally clogged streets of Port-au-Prince, Haiti, were empty following the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse. Bullet holes could be seen on the president’s house.CreditCredit…Joseph Odelyn/Associated Press

The first shots rang out after 1 a.m.

For what some witnesses described as a half-hour, explosions echoed through the streets of the leafy, mountainous neighborhood that was home to President Jovenel Moïse and many of Haiti’s most affluent citizens.

At first, some nearby residents thought it was one of the twin terrors that plague the nation: gang violence or another earthquake.

But by dawn, as people huddled around radios and listened to television reports, the news slowly emerged that the president was dead.

As people waited for the government to provide them with an update on how it would move forward, that shocking news was one of the few things that was certain.

As the morning went on, videos circulating on WhatsApp painted an ominous scene — a formation of SUVs arriving on the street and spilling out armed men in military formation. One announced in Creole and English over a loudspeaker, “This is a D.E.A. operation.” The legitimacy of the videos could not be verified.

A State Department spokesman said the D.E.A. claims were “absolutely false.” The agency has a long history of operations in Haiti, and some suggested that the attackers might have been resorting to a ruse to get officers guarding the president to step aside.

The interim prime minister, Claude Joseph, offered few details, aside from a rather cryptic comment that some of the attackers were speaking Spanish.

A businessman who lives in the same neighborhood as the president said he had been woken in the night by the sound of explosions around 1 a.m. Other residents said they had heard shooting between 1 and 1:30 and that it had lasted about an hour.

The normally clogged streets of the capital were ominously empty on Wednesday.

Banks and stores were shuttered; university classrooms vacant; the ti machann — market women — who normally line the shoulders of roads selling their wares were conspicuously absent.

Lines formed at some depots, with people stocking up on water — which is normally bought by the container in poorer areas — in case they end up hunkered down for a long time. Others huddled at home, calling one another to check on their safety and ask for updates. In some middle-class neighborhoods, people huddled on the sidewalk sharing their fears for the country’s future.

“I don’t know what’s going to happen now — everything is possible,” one man said while speaking to neighbors.

Jenny Joseph, a university student from the suburb of Carrefour, said the country would have to be on the alert. “Things are hard and ugly now,” she said. “For the next few days, things will be crazy in Haiti.”

The main two-lane road up to Pèlerin, the suburb where the president lived, was blocked by green camouflage-speckled trucks.

The president had a high level of protection. He regularly traveled with a large motorcade of more than a dozen armored cars and police guards. Many wondered how it was possible that assassins entered his home.

Advisers to Mr. Moïse told The New York Times that the country had closed the airport and many other points of entry early Wednesday as they tried to hunt down the team of assailants who assassinated the president.

Harold Isaac and Jacques Richard Miguel contributed reporting from Port-au-Prince, and Dieu-Nalio Chery contributed reporting from New York.

Protesting in Port-au-Prince in March.
Credit…Valerie Baeriswyl/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Jovenel Moïse had been struggling to quell growing public anger over his attempt to hold onto power despite the opposition’s insistence that his term had expired.

Mr. Moïse had been ruling by decree for more than a year. Many, including prominent jurists, contend that his term ended in February. Haiti has been rocked by protests against his rule, and also has suffered a surge in gang activity.

The opposition said that Mr. Moïse’s five-year term should have ended on Feb. 7, five years to the day since his predecessor, Michel Martelly, stepped down. When Mr. Moïse refused to leave office, thousands of Haitians took to the streets, setting trash and tires on fire as they demanded his resignation.

In response, the government announced the arrest of 23 people, including a top judge and a senior police officer, who the president said had tried to kill him and overthrow the government.

“The goal of these people was to make an attempt on my life,” President Moïse said at the time. “That plan was aborted.”

Mr. Moïse insisted that he had one more year to serve, because his term did not begin until a year after the vote that brought him to the top office amid accusations of electoral fraud.

Leonie Hermantin, a Haitian community leader in Miami, said people across the diaspora, however divided they may have been about Mr. Moïse, were united in their shock and despair.

“We don’t want to go back to ways of the past where presidents were eliminated through violence,” she said, adding, “There’s no one celebrating.”

The protests this year were part of broader unrest, with heavily armed gangs clashing on the streets and attacking police stations.

“While exact numbers are still unclear, preliminary estimates suggest that thousands of people have fled their homes and sought shelter with host families or settled in informal shelters,” the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said last month in a report on the situation.

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Biden Responds to Assassination of Haiti’s President

President Biden said he was concerned for Haiti after President Jovenel Moïse was assassinated in an attack at his home in Port-au-Prince.

Reporter: “Mr. President.” Reporter: “What’s your reaction to the Haitian president’s assassination, Mr. President?” Reporter: “Mr. President —” Reporter: “What’s your reaction, Mr. President, to the Haitian president being assassinated?” “We need a lot more information, but it’s just, it’s very worrisome about the state of Haiti.” Reporter: “Does the U.S. have a role in —” [reporters talking]

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President Biden said he was concerned for Haiti after President Jovenel Moïse was assassinated in an attack at his home in Port-au-Prince.CreditCredit…Sarahbeth Maney/The New York Times

President Biden said Wednesday that he was “shocked and saddened” by the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse of Haiti and the shooting of the leader’s wife, Martine Moïse. The sentiment from the American leader, whose administration has vowed to put a renewed focus on Haiti, came even as it faces difficult questions about U.S. policy goals and actions.

“We condemn this heinous act,” Mr. Biden said in a statement. “I am sending my sincere wishes for First Lady Moïse’s recovery.”

Representative Andy Levin, a co-chair of the House Haiti Caucus and member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, called the assassination “a devastating, if not shocking, example of the extent to which the security situation in Haiti has unraveled.”

“For months,” Mr. Levin, a Democrat, said in a statement, “violent actors have terrorized the Haitian people with impunity while the international community — the United States included, I fear — has failed to heed their cries to change course and support a Haitian-led democratic transition.”

The committee’s lead Republican, Representative Michael McCaul of Texas, likewise condemned the killing, saying in a statement that “there must be a full investigation and appropriate accountability for his murder.”

While the United States and other nations have long supplied Haiti with much-needed aid and financial assistance, including helping the country recover from a devastating 2010 earthquake, Western powers have also exerted an overwhelming influence over the country’s political destiny.

The United States occupied the country from 1915 to 1934, and a series of coups in the 20th and 21st centuries were backed by Western powers.

France, in particular, has long had a difficult relationship with Haiti, a former slave colony that it ruled throughout the 18th century, turning it into an extremely lucrative territory. Anti-French sentiment is common in Haiti, where the first visit by a French president was not until 2010.

France’s foreign minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian, said in a statement that he was “shocked” by Mr. Moïse’s killing. “All light must be shed on this crime, which comes amid a very deteriorated political and security climate,” Mr. Le Drian said. He urged “all of the actors of Haitian political life” to observe “calm and restraint.”

The United Nations secretary-general, António Guterres, said through a spokesman that “the perpetrators of this crime must be brought to justice.”

He called on Haitians to “preserve the constitutional order, remain united in the face of this abhorrent act and reject all violence” and vowed that the United Nations would continue to stand with the country’s government and the people of Haiti.

Brazilian soldiers with a U.N. mission in Port-au-Prince in 2007.
Credit…Ruth Fremson/The New York Times

The United Nations once deployed thousands of peacekeeping troops and police officers in Haiti as part of a coordinated international effort to rescue the country from its chronic bouts of political violence and instability. But the cholera epidemic that followed the 2010 earthquake — spread by infected peacekeepers — indelibly tainted the global organization in the eyes of many Haitians.

Even the U.N. secretary-general who presided during that period, Ban Ki-moon, admitted in a memoir published last month that the cholera disaster “forever destroyed the United Nations’ reputation in Haiti.”

A peacekeeping force authorized by the Security Council in 2004, known as the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti, or by its French acronym Minustah, was empowered to send as many as 6,700 troops of all ranks and more than 1,600 civilian police officers to Haiti.

Ninety-six members of the peacekeeping mission were among those killed in the 2010 earthquake, which by some estimates left more than 300,000 people dead. The crisis led the Security Council to strengthen Minustah’s size to as many as 8,940 soldiers and 3,711 police officers.

But many Haitians came to regard the peacekeepers as an occupying force, and one that did not necessarily protect them. The force’s reputation was further impaired by reports that a Nepalese contingent may have introduced cholera to the country through poor sanitation — reports that were later confirmed by independent investigations.

Mr. Ban eventually acknowledged some responsibility, but the U.N. successfully rejected claims for compensation sought by aggrieved Haitians. A U.N. trust fund established under Mr. Ban to help Haiti cope with the cholera epidemic’s aftermath, which was supposed to total $400,000, has only a fraction of that sum.

Minustah’s mandate was terminated in 2017 with a transition to a much smaller mission, known as the United Nations Integrated Office in Haiti or its French acronym, Binuh. But the mission, which is confined to the capital, Port-au-Prince, has struggled. None of its aspirations — helping Haiti achieve good governance, the rule of law, a stable environment and promotion of human rights — have shown any significant progress.

Helen La Lime, a former American diplomat and Binuh’s chief, summarized the worsening conditions afflicting the country in a report last month to the Security Council:

“The deep-rooted political crisis which has gripped the country for the better part of the last four years shows no sign of abating,” she said. “A political agreement remains elusive, as the rhetoric used by some political leaders grows increasingly acrimonious.”

Stéphane Dujarric, a U.N. spokesman, said Wednesday that Ms. La Lime was in “constant contact” with the interim prime minister, Claude Joseph, and that she was calling “on the Haitian people to ensure calm.”

Mr. Dujarric said Binuh was in the process of accounting for its 1,200 staff members in Haiti, which includes about 200 from other countries, and he was advising them to “stay in place and in a safe place.”

Haiti has suffered a series of devastating events in recent years, including a devastating magnitude-7.0 earthquake in 2010, a powerful hurricane in 2016 and, most recently, the coronavirus pandemic. Political turmoil in recent months led to thousands taking to the street demanding the removal of President Jovenel Moïse, who was killed in the early hours of Wednesday.

A police officer standing guard outside the presidential residence in Port-au-Prince on Wednesday.
Credit…Valerie Baeriswyl/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Not long after Haiti’s president was shot to death by assassins who burst into his home, the country’s interim prime minister announced that he had declared an “état de siège” — a state of siege.

To many people around the world watching with alarm as events unfold in Haiti, the term was unfamiliar, even baffling.

But things grew a little clearer when the interim prime minister, Claude Joseph, published details of the order in the official government journal, Le Moniteur.

Haiti is now basically under martial law. For 15 days, the police and security members can enter homes, control traffic and take special security measures and “all general measures that permit the arrest of the assassins” of President Jovenel Moïse. It also forbids meetings meant to excite or prepare for disorder.

There is one wrinkle. Or two, really.

Only Parliament has the power to declare a state of siege, said Georges Michel, a Haitian historian and constitutional expert. But Haiti at this moment has no functional Parliament. The terms of the entire lower house expired more than a year ago, and only 10 of Haiti’s 30 Senate seats are currently filled.

“Legally, he can’t do this,” Mr. Michel said. “We are in a state of necessity.”

There are actually a few other wrinkles.

Mr. Joseph’s term as interim prime minister is about to end and, in fact, President Moïse had already appointed a replacement, his sixth since taking office.

“We are in total confusion,” said Jacky Lumarque, rector of Quisqueya Universty, a large private university in Port-au-Prince. “We have two prime ministers. We can’t say which is more legitimate than the other.”

It gets worse.

Haiti also appears to have two Constitutions, and the dueling documents say different things about what to do if a president dies in office.

The 1987 version — published in both national languages, Creole and French — deems that if the presidency is vacant for any reason, the country’s most senior judge should step in.

In 2012, however, the Constitution was amended, and the new one directed that the president should be replaced by a council of ministers, under the guidance of the prime minister. Except if, as was Mr. Moïse’s situation, the president was in the fourth year of office. In that case, Parliament would vote for a provisional president. If, of course, there were a Parliament.

Unfortunately, that Constitution was amended in French, but not in Creole. So as it stands, the country has two Constitutions.

“Things are unclear,” said Mr. Michel, who helped write the 1987 Constitution. “It’s a very grave situation.”

Mr. Lumarque lamented the state of his country.

“This is the first time where we’ve seen that the state is so weak,” he said. “There is no Parliament. A dysfunctional Senate. The head of the Supreme Court just died.

“Jovenel Moïse was the last legitimate power in the country’s governance.”

Haitians took to the streets of Port-au-Prince in March to protest the new Constitution promoted by Jovenel Moïse.
Credit…Jean Marc Herve Abelard/EPA, via Shutterstock

Despite public unrest and fragile political support, in the months before President Jovenel Moïse was killed he was pursuing an aggressive agenda that included rewriting the country’s Constitution.

Among the provisions he was pushing for was one that would grant Haiti’s leader immunity for any actions while in office, leading critics to charge that he presented a threat to democracy and was setting the country on a course toward authoritarian rule.

“We need a system that works,” Mr. Moïse said in a telephone interview with The New York Times in March. “The system now doesn’t work. The president cannot work to deliver.”

The United States, whose support is critical for Haiti, had called on the country to hold presidential and legislative elections as soon as technically feasible. It also opposed the effort to draft a new constitution along the lines Mr. Moïse proposed.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken outlined the Biden administration’s tougher stance during a hearing of the House Foreign Affairs Committee in June.

Even though many were critical of Mr. Moïse’s approach to reshape the government, many Haitians say a new Constitution is needed.

The current one has created two competing power centers in the country — the president and prime minister — which often leads to friction and a fractured government.

The draft Constitution would have abolished the Senate, leaving in place a single legislative body elected every five years, and replace the post of prime minister with a vice president who answers to the president, in a bid to streamline government.

Haiti’s capital, Port-au-Prince, in 2017.
Credit…Daniel Berehulak for The New York Times

Haiti has been thwarted by outside interests from its very beginning.

For decades, European powers, and later the United States, refused to recognize it as an independent republic.

The Caribbean nation became the world’s first Black-led republic when it declared its independence from France on New Year’s Day 1804. That day, Saint-Domingue, once France’s richest colony, known as the “Pearl of the Antilles,” became Haiti.

It was a land long coveted for its riches of sugar, coffee and cotton, brought to market by enslaved people. Its declaration of independence meant that, for the first time, a brutally enslaved people had wrenched their freedom from colonial masters. Bit it came only after decades of bloody war.

In 1825, more than two decades after independence, the king of France, Charles X, sent warships to the capital, Port-au-Prince, and forced Haiti to compensate former French colonists for their lost property.

Haiti, unable to pay the hefty sum, was forced into a debt that it had to shoulder for nearly a century. Throughout the 19th century, a period marked by political and economic instability, the country invested little in its infrastructure or education.

In 1915, U.S. troops invaded after a mob killed the Haitian president.

The United States later justified its occupation as an attempt to restore order and prevent what it said was a looming invasion by French or German forces. But U.S. troops reintroduced forced labor on road-construction projects and were later accused of extrajudicial killings.

The widely unpopular occupation ended in 1934, but U.S. control over Haiti’s finances lasted until 1947.

After a series of midcentury coups, the Duvalier family, father-and-son dictators, reigned over Haiti with brute force until the 1980s. Their regime plunged Haiti deeper into debt, and introduced the so-called Tontons Macoutes, an infamous secret police force that terrorized the country.

In the early 1990s, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, a former Roman Catholic priest, was elected president. He was then ousted twice from power over the next 15 years.

Mr. Aristide preached liberation theology, and threatened the establishment by promising economic reforms. After a first coup, he was restored to power. But he left the presidency for good after a second coup in 2004, which was supported by the United States and France. He was exiled to the Central African Republic and, later, to South Africa.

Haiti, with a population of 11 million, is considered the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere.

In 2010, it suffered a devastating earthquake that claimed the lives of about 300,000 people. The country never really recovered, and it has remained mired in economic underdevelopment and insecurity. A cholera outbreak in 2016, linked to U.N. peacekeepers, killed at least 10,000 Haitians and sickened another 800,000.

Then early Wednesday, Jovenel Moïse, who became president in 2017, was assassinated at his residence.

Selam Gebrekidan contributed reporting.

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Bill Gates Can Remove Melinda French Gates From Foundation in Two Years

Bill Gates and Melinda French Gates have at times referred to the foundation they established together as their “fourth child.” If over the next two years they can’t find a way to work together following their planned divorce, Mr. Gates will get full custody.

That was one of the most important takeaways from a series of announcements about the future of the world’s largest charitable foundation made on Wednesday by its chief executive, Mark Suzman, overshadowing an injection of $15 billion in resources that will be added to the $50 billion previously amassed in its endowment over two decades.

“They have agreed that if after two years either one of them decides that they cannot continue to work together, Melinda will resign as co-chair and trustee,” Mr. Suzman said in a message on Wednesday to employees of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. If that happened, he added, Ms. French Gates “would receive personal resources from Bill for her philanthropic work” separate from the foundation’s endowment.

The money at stake underscores the strange mix of public significance — in global health, poverty reduction and gender equality, among other important areas — and private affairs that attends any move made by the first couple of philanthropy, even after the announcement of their split. The foundation plans to add trustees outside their close circle, a step toward better governance that philanthropy experts had urged for years.

announced their divorce in May, Mr. Gates and Ms. French Gates noted the importance of the work done by the foundation they had built and said they “continue to share a belief in that mission.” In the announcement on Wednesday, each echoed those sentiments.

“These new resources and the evolution of the foundation’s governance will sustain this ambitious mission and vital work for years to come,” Mr. Gates said in a statement.

Ms. French Gates emphasized the importance of expanding the board. “These governance changes bring more diverse perspectives and experience to the foundation’s leadership,” she said in a statement. “I believe deeply in the foundation’s mission and remain fully committed as co-chair to its work.”

In the immediate aftermath of the divorce announcement, it was unclear how they would share control of the institution. Wednesday’s announcement indicated that if they cannot work out their differences, it is the Microsoft co-founder Mr. Gates who will maintain control, as he essentially buys his ex-wife out of the foundation.

Mr. Suzman said he did not know how much Ms. French Gates would get if it came to that. But any payout would most likely be significant.

Ms. French Gates’s name since the divorce was announced. She pursues her own priorities through a separate organization known as Pivotal Ventures. Mr. Gates also has his own group, Gates Ventures.

Less than a year ago, the Gates Foundation was run by Mr. Gates, Ms. French Gates, his father and one of his closest friends, the billionaire investor Warren E. Buffett. It was a remarkable concentration of power for one of the most influential institutions in the world, a $50 billion private foundation that works in every corner of the globe.

The restructuring announced Wednesday could begin the process of making the Gates Foundation more responsive to the people its mission aims to help and loosen the grip on the reins that its founders have held for more than two decades.

“We’re trying to do this in a very careful and deliberate manner, thinking for the long term,” Mr. Suzman said in an interview.

In a larger sense, the planned changes at the Gates Foundation reflect the tensions within philanthropy as a whole — between the wishes of the wealthy, powerful donors who provide the millions and even billions of dollars and the nonprofits using those funds to feed, shelter and treat those in need.

“The problems with the governance predated the separation and divorce just as those problems are an issue with all family foundations,” said Rob Reich, co-director of the Center on Philanthropy and Civil Society at Stanford.

Two former senior Gates Foundation officials called for an expanded board in an article a few weeks after the divorce announcement, including “a chair who is not the foundation’s C.E.O., founder or a founder’s family member.”

“Given that founders receive a substantial tax benefit for their donations, the assets the board oversees should be regarded as belonging to the public, with the board being held accountable to a fiduciary standard of care,” wrote Alex Friedman, the former chief financial officer, and Julie Sunderland, the former director of the foundation’s Strategic Investment Fund.

The Gates Foundation is trying to fight Covid-19, eradicate polio and reshape the struggle for gender equality, even as its two co-chairs extricate themselves from a 27-year marriage. The foundation has more than 1,700 employees and makes grants in countries around the world. Since 2000, the foundation has made grants totaling more than $55 billion, much of it from Mr. Gates and Ms. French Gates, but tens of billions also came from Mr. Buffett, the chief executive of Berkshire Hathaway.

Yet, in significant ways, the future of such an influential institution, one that touches the lives of millions of people through its grant recipients, is being decided in a separation agreement between two billionaires.

Mr. Buffett’s announcement last month that he was stepping down as the third trustee of the foundation made clear that the divorce had set significant changes in motion. Mr. Suzman promised at the time that governance changes would be announced this month, with many observers anticipating that a new slate of independent trustees would be revealed.

Details on what that might look like remained few on Wednesday, with neither names of candidates for the board of trustees nor even the ultimate number of new trustees released. Mr. Gates and Ms. French Gates will approve changes to the foundation’s governance structures by the end of the year and the new trustees will be announced in January, according to the statement.

At the center of the impending changes stands Mr. Suzman, a 14-year veteran of the Gates Foundation, who was named chief executive just as the spread of Covid-19 in the United States was becoming apparent. Born in South Africa, the Harvard- and Oxford-educated Mr. Suzman served as a correspondent for The Financial Times in London, South Africa and Washington before going to work at the United Nations. He joined the foundation in 2007 to work on global development policy before claiming the top post last year.

Mr. Suzman said in an interview that he had heard that Mr. Gates and Ms. French Gates would be divorcing only about 24 hours before the news was announced. He said they had started talking about possible governance changes “almost right away” after that.

He said he was in regular contact with both. “I’m having three-way conversations with them,” Mr. Suzman said. “We’re having regular three-way email exchanges and other discussions.”

He noted that the hands-on leadership of Mr. Gates and Ms. French Gates meant the changes will take some time to enact.

“The degree and depth of engagement of our co-chairs and trustees goes significantly beyond what a traditional board does and how it does it,” he said in the interview. “So we’ll need some time to think through how we balance that with the people we bring on board.”

Mr. Suzman will work with Connie Collingsworth, the foundation’s chief operating officer and chief legal officer, to handle the process. The final decisions on both the new trustees and the changes to the foundation’s governance documents will be made by Mr. Gates and Ms. French Gates. It is a reminder that, at least for now, power remains concentrated in the former couple.

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