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UPDATE 3-Haiti government denounces plot to oust president, arrests over 20

·2 min read

(Adds comment by president)

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Feb 7 (Reuters) - Haitian authorities onSunday arrested nearly two dozen people, including a SupremeCourt judge, for their role in an alleged plot to oust PresidentJovenel Moise that has exacerbated political tensions in thetroubled Caribbean country.

Prime Minister Joseph Jouthe told a news conference at hisprivate residence that a senior police official was also amongthe 23 people detained with money, guns and ammunition.

"These people had contacted national palace securityofficials, high-ranking officers of the national palace whosemission was to arrest the president ... and also to facilitatethe installation of a new president," Jouthe said, speakingalongside the minister of justice and the chief of police.

President Moise, speaking later at the Port-Au-Princeairport on his way to launch the annual carnival in the coastaltown of Jacmel, said the plotters' aim was to make an "attempton my life".

The arrests come after leading opposition figures this weekannounced a plan to replace Moise with a new head of state,accusing the president of being authoritarian and presiding overeconomic chaos in the Western hemisphere's poorest country.

Earlier on Sunday, anti-government demonstrators inPort-Au-Prince clashed with police, who responded with tear gas.There were also street protests against Moise in some othertowns.

The opposition plan called for members of civil society andopposition leaders to pick a new president from one of thesitting Supreme Court judges, instead of waiting for generalelections scheduled for September.

Moise, who has ruled by decree since mid-January, has statedhe would hand over power to the winner of the elections butwould not step down until his term expires in 2022.

The U.S. government on Friday urged talks to resolve thecrisis while underlining "a new elected president should succeedPresident Moise when his term ends on February 2nd, 2022."

Moise has also put in place plans to hold a referendum onamending the constitution in April, with the opposition voicingconcerns the vote will not be free or fair and could give Moisetoo much power.

Haiti has been badly hit by a crippling economic crisis madeworse by the coronavirus pandemic.

The country has also been paralyzed over the past year by aspike in kidnappings and a sharp rise in overall crime, whichhas weighed on the economy and dealt a huge blow to the qualityof life for ordinary people.(Reporting by Andre Paultre; Writing by Drazen Jorgic; Editingby Bill Berkrot, Daniel Wallis and Diane Craft)