Police arrest more than 20 people accused of trying to kill President Jovenel Moise and overthrow his government, officials say.

In this file photo taken on January 15, 2021, a protester drags items into the street near burning barricades as opponents of Haitian President Jovenel Moise demonstrate in Port-au-Prince to demand his departure from power on February 7, the day they believe to be the last of his term.
In this file photo taken on January 15, 2021, a protester drags items into the street near burning barricades as opponents of Haitian President Jovenel Moise demonstrate in Port-au-Prince to demand his departure from power on February 7, the day they believe to be the last of his term. (AFP)

Haitian authorities have foiled an attempt to murder President Jovenel Moise and overthrow his government, as a dispute rages over when his term ends.

Sunday's "attempted coup d'etat", according to Justice Minister Rockefeller Vincent, included some high-ranking officials. 

Authorities say they seized weapons.

Earlier, Haitian President Jovenel Moise announced that police have arrested more than 20 people he accused of trying to kill him and overthrow his government, including a Supreme Court judge who has the support of opposition leaders demanding that Moise step down.

Moise spoke on Sunday at Haiti's airport in Port-au-Prince, flanked by the country's prime minister and the police chief as he prepared to leave for the southern coastal town of Jacmel for the opening ceremony of its yearly carnival, which is being held amid the pandemic.

"There was an attempt on my life," he said.

Judge and police official among arrested 

Moise said the alleged plot began on November 20 but did not provide further details or any evidence except to say among the people arrested is a judge and an inspector general with the police. 

He then said other high-ranking officials would provide more information but they all walked away and did not speak further to reporters.

Opposition leaders could not be immediately reached for comment.

Reynold Georges, an attorney who once worked as a consultant for Moise's administration but has since joined the opposition, denounced the arrests in an interview with radio station Zenith FM.

"We ask for his release immediately," he said of Irvikel Dabresil, the Supreme Court judge who is being detained, adding that the court system should shut down until he's free.

Georges also called on people to rise up against Moise.

Also arrested was Police General Inspector Antoinette Gauthier, according to a statement from the Young Bar Association of Port-au-Prince, which accused Moise's administration of sowing terror and said on Sunday’s actions should not be tolerated.

Opposition demands Moise resign 

The arrests come on the day that opposition leaders claim Moise should resign, saying that his term ends on Sunday. 

Moise has repeatedly stated that his five-year term ends in February 2022. 

Former President Michel Martelly’s term ended in 2016, but a chaotic election forced the appointment of a provisional president for one year until Moise was sworn in in 2017.

The opposition has organised recent protests demanding that Moise step down, and normally congested streets in Haiti's capital and elsewhere remained empty on Sunday as a handful of demonstrators burned tires.

Moise has US backing

Meanwhile, Moise appears to have the support of the administration of US President Joe Biden. 

Ned Price, a US State Department spokesman, said on Friday that the US has urged Haiti to organise free and fair elections so that Parliament can resume operations, adding that a new elected president should succeed Moise when his term ends in February 2022.

Moise is currently ruling by decree after dissolving a majority of Parliament in January 2020 after no legislative elections were held. 

He is planning an upcoming constitutional referendum in April that critics say could award him more power, while general elections are scheduled for later this year.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies