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Haiti swears in new prime minister after US-linked assassination of former leader

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
Prime Minister Ariel Henry (L) poses with Minister of the Interior and Territorial Communities Liszt Quitel during a ceremony at La Primature in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, on July 20, 2021. (Photo by AFP)

Haiti has formally appointed Ariel Henry as its new prime minister following the assassination of President Jovenel Moise two weeks ago, which threw the already-troubled Caribbean country into further political chaos.

Henry was sworn in during a ceremony in the capital, Port-au-Prince, on Tuesday, pledging to improve the country's dire situation and to organize long-delayed elections, currently scheduled for September.

"One of my priority tasks will be to reassure the people that we will do everything to restore order and security," Henry said.

"This is one of the main issues that the president wanted me to tackle, because he understood that it was a necessary step if we were to succeed in his other concern of organizing credible, honest, transparent, and inclusive elections," he added.

Henry said the government should work to strengthen an economy wrecked by crime and the coronavirus pandemic.

The Tuesday inauguration ceremony took place on the same day that official commemorations were held to honor Moise, who was killed at his home in the hills above the capital in the early morning hours of July 7 by a hit squad with suspected ties to the United States.

The assassination opened up a political vacuum just as Moise and other civil leaders were preparing for elections and discussing revisions to Haiti's constitution.

Outgoing Prime Minister Claude Joseph, who took helm in the immediate aftermath of the incident, declared a state of emergency across the country. Joseph said Henry's appointment was intended to facilitate long-awaited elections, warning of a tough task ahead.

"You're inheriting an exceptional situation characterized by the absence of a president to serve as your shield, a political crisis unprecedented in the history of the country, galloping insecurity, a morose and precarious economic situation," Joseph said.

Henry, a 71-year-old neurosurgeon, was named to the post by Moise days before his death, but was not then formally sworn in.

Joseph, who agreed to stand down and cede the role to Henry, has returned to a former post as foreign minister, just as several other ministers are expected to keep their old portfolios for now.

The latest development comes as Haitian authorities are still investigating the murky motives for Moise's assassination. Henry said in his inaugural speech that all the culprits, perpetrators, and sponsors must be identified and brought before Haitian justice, expressing hope that exemplary and dissuasive sentences will be pronounced.

"The nation expects no less from its leaders. Never again will we have to relive such a tragedy," Henry said. "The solution to the Haitian crisis must come from the Haitians. Everything is negotiable, except democracy, elections, and the rule of law."

More than 20 suspects accused of direct involvement in the assassination have been arrested, the majority of them former Colombian soldiers. Haitian authorities say the hit squad had been hired through the Florida-based security company CTU. Currently, three US citizens are under arrest for their involvement in the operation, according to Haitian authorities. Leon Charles, director of Haiti's national police, has said Haitian-born American Christian Sanon, a doctor from Florida, acted as the mastermind of the assassination.

A recent report has also revealed that several of the suspects had ties to the US, including serving as informants for the FBI.

Meanwhile, the Pentagon has said suspects linked to the assassination of Moise have received American military training, The Washington Post reported.

Moise will be laid to rest on Friday in the northern city of Cap-Haitien. His widow, who was seriously wounded in the attack, was treated in a Miami hospital before returning home over the weekend.

Haiti arrests 3 police officers as part of probe into Moise's killing

Separately on Tuesday, Haitian police said they arrested three police officers in connection with the assassination of Moise, suggesting there may have been an infiltration of the force ahead of the killing.

The police named the three as Boni Gregoire, Clifton Hyppolite, and Elie Jean Charles, without elaborating on the specific role they played in the plot.

Police said they had so far arrested more than two dozen people, conducted 45 interrogations, and searched 13 residences, during which they had discovered about 60 firearms, some of which belonged to the police force. They said they had also found a drone and three grenades.

Plane carrying Venezuelan Guaido's team also carried Moise's assassins: Report

Meanwhile, a new report by Venezuelan television network La Iguana has revealed that the same private jet used to carry some members of the hit squad that killed Moise was also used to transport Venezuelan opposition figure Juan Guaido to negotiations in the Caribbean island nation of Barbados.

According to the report, the aircraft in question is a Cessna Citation Mustang four-seater small business jet with the tail number HI949, which transported three members of the commando unit that assassinated Moise and injured his wife.

The same aircraft also transported Guaido's team to Barbados in September 2019 for peace talks with representatives from the government of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, whom Guaido has attempted to overthrow.

The aircraft is owned by Helidosa, an airline in the Dominican Republic. CEO Alex Castillo said in a statement that the three passengers had "passed all the immigration controls in the airports by which they left and entered and that his company had no means of establishing that those who used his services had criminal ends."

"We are not a security agency, or an investigative agency to be able to know it," Castillo said.

He said his airline also transported Moise's wife to Florida for treatment after the attack.

Guaido, who has unilaterally declared himself president of Venezuela, attempted a coup in the country last year, with support from the United States.

Maduro has also accused the US spy agency CIA and the American military of plotting to assassinate him.

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