Haiti's interim prime minister Joseph says he will step down


FILE PHOTO: Interim Prime Minister Claude Joseph gives a press conference almost a week after the assassination of President Jovenel Moise, in Port-au-Prince, Haiti July 13, 2021. REUTERS/Ricardo Arduengo

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -Claude Joseph, who has nominally led Haiti as acting prime minister since the July 7 assassination of President Jovenel Moise, said in a Washington Post interview published on Monday he has agreed to step down, handing power to a challenger backed by the international community.

The announcement appears to end a power struggle in the Caribbean nation between Joseph and Ariel Henry, the 71-year old neurosurgeon who was appointed prime minister by Moise two days before the killing but had yet to be sworn in.

Moise was fatally shot when attackers armed with assault rifles stormed his private residence in the hills above Port-au-Prince. The assassination has pitched the already troubled nation into chaos, coming amid a surge in gang violence that has displaced thousands of people and hampered economic activity in the poorest country in the Americas.

Joseph told the Washington Post that he and Henry had met privately over the past week, adding that he agreed to step down on Sunday "for the good of the nation" and is willing to transfer power "as quickly as possible."

"Everyone who knows me knows that I am not interested in this battle, or in any kind of power grab," Joseph said.

"The president was a friend to me. I am just interested in seeing justice for him," Joseph added.

Haiti, a country of about 11 million people, has struggled to achieve stability since the fall of the Duvalier dynastic dictatorship in 1986, and has grappled with a series of coups and foreign interventions.

On Saturday, the important Core Group of international ambassadors and representatives urged "the formation of a consensual and inclusive government."

"To this end, we strongly encourage the designated Prime Minister Ariel Henry to continue the mission entrusted to him to form such a government," the group said.

The Core Group is made up of ambassadors from Germany, Brazil, Canada, Spain, the United States, France, the European Union and special representatives from the United Nations and the Organization of American States.

The group also called for the organization of "free, fair, transparent and credible legislative and presidential elections as quickly as possible."

A Colombian police chief said on Friday https://www.reuters.com/world/americas/haiti-justice-min-ex-official-could-have-ordered-moise-killing-colombia-police-2021-07-16 the assassination may have been ordered by a former Haitian justice ministry official, citing a preliminary investigation that has implicated Haitian-Americans and former Colombian soldiers.

Martine Moise, the assassinated president's widow, returned to Haiti on Saturday for his funeral after she was treated in a Miami hospital for injuries sustained during the attack.

(Reporting by Daphne Psaledakis and Jan Wolfe; Editing by Will Dunham, Doina Chiacu and Chizu Nomiyama)

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