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Haitians wave their passports shouting "Help, refugee," as they gather outside the U.S. Embassy in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, July 9, 2021.

waving passports

Haitians wave their passports shouting "Help, refugee," as they gather outside the U.S. Embassy in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, July 9, 2021.

Haiti’s interim government has asked the U.S. and U.N. to deploy troops to protect key infrastructure as it tries to stabilize the country and prepare for elections in the aftermath of President Jovenel Moïse’s assassination.

The stunning request for U.S. military support recalled the tumult following Haiti’s last presidential assassination, in 1915, when an angry mob dragged President Vilbrun Guillaume Sam out of the French Embassy and beat him to death. In response, President Woodrow Wilson sent the Marines into Haiti, justifying the American military occupation as a way to avert anarchy. American occupation lasted nearly two decades.

Mathias Pierre, Haiti’s elections minister, defended the government’s request for military assistance, saying in an interview Saturday with The Associated Press that the local police force is weak and lacks resources.

“What do we do? Do we let the country fall into chaos? Private properties destroyed? People killed after the assassination of the president? Or, as a government, do we prevent?” he said. ”We’re not asking for the occupation of the country. We’re asking for small (number of) troops to assist and help us ... as long as we are weak, I think we will need our neighbors.”

The request was received but there has been no decision, according to a US official familiar, speaking on condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to discuss the matter publicly. But the Biden administration has so far given no indication it will send troops.

Hundreds of Haitians gathered outside the U.S. Embassy in Port-au-Prince Friday pleading for a way out of the country. Women carried babies and young men waved passports and ID cards as they cried out, “Refuge!” and “Help!”

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Haitians gathered in front of the U.S. Embassy July 9, 2021, amid rumors on radio and social media that the U.S. will be handing out exile and humanitarian visas, in Port-au-Prince, Haiti.

“This country has nothing to offer,” said 36-year-old Thermidor Joam. “If the president can be killed with his own security, I have no protection whatsoever if someone wants to kill me.”

For now, the U.S. only plans to send FBI officials to help investigate a crime that has plunged Haiti, a country already wracked by poverty and gang violence, into a destabilizing battle for power and constitutional standoff.

Haiti also sent a letter to the United Nations requesting assistance, U.N. deputy spokesman Farhan Haq said Saturday. The letter asked for troops and security at key installations, according to a U.N. source speaking on condition of anonymity because details of the letter are private.

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A Haitian police asks a woman to move away from a gate at the U.S. Embassy in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, July 9, 2021, as a large crowd gathered outside amid rumors on radio and social media that the U.S. will be handing out exile and humanitarian visas, two days after Haitian President Jovenel Moïse was assassinated in his home.

“We definitely need assistance and we’ve asked our international partners for help,” Interim Prime Minister Claude Joseph told the AP in a phone interview late Friday. “We believe our partners can assist the national police in resolving the situation.”

On Friday, a group of lawmakers announced they had recognized Joseph Lambert, the head of Haiti’s dismantled Senate, as provisional president in a direct challenge to the interim government’s authority. They also recognized as prime minister Ariel Henry, whom Moïse had selected to replace Joseph a day before he was killed but who had not yet taken office or formed a government.

One of those lawmakers, Rosemond Pradel, told the AP that Joseph “is neither qualified nor has the legal right” to lead the country.

Joseph expressed dismay that others would try to take advantage of Moïse’s murder for political gain.

“I’m not interested in a power struggle,” said Joseph, who assumed leadership with the backing of police and the military. “There’s only one way people can become president in Haiti. And that’s through elections.”

Meanwhile, more details emerged about what increasingly resembled a murky, international conspiracy: a shootout with gunmen holed up in a foreign embassy, a private security firm operating out of a warehouse in Miami and a cameo sighting of a Hollywood star.

Among the arrested are two Haitian Americans, including one who worked alongside Sean Penn following the nation’s devastating 2010 earthquake. Police have also detained or killed more than a dozen former members of Colombia’s military.

Some of the suspects were seized in a raid on Taiwan’s Embassy where they are believed to have sought refuge. National Police Chief Léon Charles said another eight suspects were still at large and being sought.

Colombian officials said the men were recruited by four companies and traveled to Haiti via the Dominican Republic. U.S.-trained Colombian soldiers are often recruited by security firms in conflict zones because of their experience in a decadeslong war against leftist rebels and drug cartels.

It’s not known who masterminded the attack. And questions remain about how the perpetrators were able to penetrate the president’s residence posing as U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agents, meeting little resistance from those charged with protecting Moïse.

Besides the Colombians, those detained by police included two Haitian Americans.

Investigative Judge Clément Noël told French-language newspaper Le Nouvelliste that the arrested Americans, James Solages and Joseph Vincent, said the attackers planned only to arrest Moïse, not kill him. Noël said Solages and Vincent were acting as translators for the attackers, the newspaper reported Friday.

Solages, 35, described himself as a “certified diplomatic agent,” an advocate for children and budding politician on a now-removed website for a charity he started in 2019 in South Florida to assist residents of his Haitian hometown of Jacmel.

He worked briefly as a driver and bodyguard for a relief organization set up by Penn following a magnitude 7.0 earthquake that killed 300,000 Haitians and left tens of thousands homeless. He also lists as past employers the Canadian Embassy in Haiti. His now-deactivated Facebook page features photos of armored military vehicles and an image of himself in front of an American flag.

Calls to the charity and Solages’ associates went unanswered. However, a relative in Florida said Solages doesn’t have any military training and doesn’t believe he was involved in the killing.

Joseph refused to specify who was behind the attack, but said that Moïse had earned numerous enemies while attacking oligarchs who for years profited from overly generous state contracts.

Analysts say whoever plotted the brazen attack likely had ties to a criminal underworld that has flourished amid corruption and drug trafficking. The growing power of gangs displaced more than 14,700 people in Haiti last month alone as they torched and ransacked homes in a fight over territory.

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Haitian Police holds hands forming a human chain to block entry to the U.S. Embassy in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, July 9, 2021.

Prosecutors also want to interrogate members of Moïse’s security detail, including security coordinator Jean Laguel Civil and Dimitri Hérard, the head of the General Security Unit of the National Palace.

“If you are responsible for the president’s security, where have you been?,” Port-au-Prince prosecutor Bed-Ford Claude was quoted as telling Le Nouvelliste. “What did you do to avoid this fate for the president?”