Haiti ex-coup leader Guy Philippe demands PM resign, wants presidency

Guy Philippe, who helped lead a coup in Haiti in 2004 and returned to the Caribbean island last year after serving a prison sentence in the U.S., demanded on Friday that the country’s prime minister resign and said he wanted to become president.

Months of violence have pushed the government in Haiti to the brink of collapse, with increasingly powerful gangs demanding the resignation of Prime Minister Ariel Henry who remains outside the country, seemingly unable or unwilling to return.

“He should resign,” Philippe, a 56-year-old former police chief, said in an interview with Reuters over Zoom from Haiti. “I think he should stay where he is now … and let Haitians decide their fate.”

Henry’s spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Henry left Haiti last week to secure Kenya’s leadership for a long-delayed U.N.-backed security mission he first requested in 2022 to help fight the gangs. He is believed to still be in Puerto Rico, where he arrived on Tuesday.

The government extended on Thursday a state of emergency around the capital Port-au-Prince as the violence forced thousands to flee their homes and the main airport to close.

Authorities first announced the state of emergency on Sunday after armed gangs broke thousands of inmates out of prison.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken urged Henry on Thursday to support a political transition for the country, where the healthcare system is near collapse, children are unable to attend school, and thousands have been killed, kidnapped or driven from their homes. There have been widespread reports of rape and torture by the gangs.

In 2004, Philippe was one of the main leaders in the successful overthrow of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. He had a failed run for president in 2006, before winning a senate seat in 2016, though he was arrested and extradited to the United States before he could be sworn in.

Philippe was deported from the U.S. to Haiti in November after serving six years of a prison sentence for money laundering derived from drug trafficking.

He said his conviction would not get in the way of his political future, citing the experiences of former South African leader Nelson Mandela, former Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez and Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.

Asked if he wanted to be president, Philippe said: “Yes! I’m going into politics. I was a senator, I’ve been elected by my people, I will go again in elections.

“Mandela was in prison, Hugo Chavez was in prison, Lula was in prison … and so if my people believe and trust me, I will be their leader,” he said.

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