Violence overshadows memorial Mass for slain Haitian leader

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CAP-HAITIEN, HAITI —
A priest told mourners at a memorial service Thursday for slain President Jovenel Moise that too much blood is being shed in Haiti as authorities warned of more violence ahead of his funeral.

The Rev. Jean-Gilles Sem spoke to dozens of people wearing white T-shirts emblazoned with Moise’s picture.

“The killings and kidnappings should stop,” he said, noting that poor communities are the most affected. “We’re tired.”

The Mass at the cathedral in the northern coastal city of Cap-Haitien was about half-full as officials warned other events planned for later in the day could be canceled amid concerns over violence.

Moise supporters kept interrupting the Mass as they cried out and accused Haiti’s elite of killing the president.

A man who identified himself as John Jovie stood outside the church with a group of men and threatened more violence if wealthy members of the elite from the capital of Port-au-Prince showed up for the ceremonies.

“We ask them not to come to the funeral,” he said. “If they come, we will cut their heads off. We will bring our guns out of hiding. …We want justice for Moise.”

The mayor of Cap-Haitien arrived at the cathedral with heavy security as men with high-powered weapons stood watch during the entire Mass.

The Mass was held a day after violence erupted in Quartier-Morin, located between Cap-Haitien and Moise’s hometown. Associated Press journalists saw the body of a man whom witnesses said was killed during the protests organized by armed men who blocked roads with large rocks and burning tires.

“That’s the only way we have to demand justice,” Aurelien Stanley, a Moise supporter, said of the violence. “If we don’t get justice for Jovenel, we will do whatever it takes to stop the funeral from happening.”

Overnight, local media reported the burning of a nearby bridge that connected two communities. Cap-Haitien, however, remained peaceful as people gathered for the ceremonies Thursday morning.

Among them was 40-year-old Luckner Joseph.

“He’s my president,” Joseph said of Moise. “He was connected with the masses. … He was always asking for everyone to sit down together, and the big guys didn’t want to sit down with the poor people.”

Before the Mass began, several people stood at the entrance and shouted, “Justice for Moise! Justice for Moise!”

Inside, dozens of people wore T-shirts that read: “The fight for the ones that are weaker is continuing. Safe journey, President Jovenel Moise.”

A private funeral for Moise was planned for Friday as authorities continue to investigate the July 7 attack at the president’s home, in which he was shot several times and his wife seriously wounded.

Meanwhile, the U.S. State Department announced the appointment of Daniel Foote, a career member of the Foreign Service, as its special envoy for Haiti.

Foote will “engage with Haitian and international partners to facilitate long-term peace and stability and support efforts to hold free and fair presidential and legislative elections,” State Department spokesperson Ned Price said.

Haiti’s police chief, Leon Charles, said 26 suspects have been arrested so far, including three police officers and 18 former Colombian soldiers. Another seven high-ranking police officials have been detained but not formally arrested as authorities probe why no one in the president’s security detail was injured that night.

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