Haitian President Jovenel Moïse was assassinated in his home Wednesday by a group of unidentified assailants who also left his wife wounded, interim Prime Minister Claude Joseph announced.
“The president was assassinated at his home by foreigners who spoke English and Spanish,” Joseph said in a statement.
Moïse was killed about 1 a.m. local time and First Lady Martine Moïse has been hospitalized, he said, adding that he is in charge of the Caribbean country.
He said the national police and other authorities have the situation under control.
Joseph condemned what he called the “hateful, inhumane and barbaric act” by the assailants.
The killing comes amid deepening political and economic stability and a spike in gang violence in the poorest country in the Americas.
Moïse — who served as Haiti’s president since February 2017 — had been ruling by decree, after legislative elections due in 2018 were delayed in the wake of disputes, including on when his own term ends, according to Agence France-Presse.
In addition to the political crisis, kidnappings for ransom have spiked in recent months, further reflecting the growing influence of armed gangs in the country, which also faces chronic poverty and recurrent natural disasters.
Moïse faced steep opposition from large segments of the population that deemed his mandate illegitimate — and he churned through seven prime ministers in four years.
Joseph was supposed to be replaced this week after only three months in the post.
In addition to presidential, legislative and local elections, Haiti was due to have a constitutional referendum in September after it was postponed twice due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Supported by Moïse, the text of the constitutional reform has been overwhelmingly rejected by the opposition and many civil society groups.
The current constitution, which was written in 1987 after the fall of the Duvalier dictatorship, declares that “any popular consultation aimed at modifying the Constitution by referendum is formally prohibited.”