A former rebel leader who is wanted on US drug charges, and was recently elected to the Haitian Senate, has been arrested as he appeared on a live radio talk show.
Guy Philippe was being interviewed on the show with another recently elected politician on Thursday when the host abruptly announced that police were outside the studio in the Petionville district of the capital Port-Au-Prince to arrest him. The host came back on air and said he had been taken away.
Radio host Gary-Pierre Paul Charles later told The Associated Press the police were members of the Haitian anti-drug unit and fired shots into the air to disperse a crowd that had gathered.
“It was shocking. People were running everywhere,” he told the AP.
The US Drug Enforcement Administration, which just missed capturing him in a 2007 raid, had no immediate comment on the arrest.
Mr Philippe’s lawyer, Reynold Georges, said the former rebel leader been taken to the airport and he urged senators to go there to prevent his extradition.
“We can’t let this happen,” he said.
A photo being circulated on social media in Haiti appeared to show Mr Philippe in a white dress shirt being led out of the studio by police. Another image showed him apparently handcuffed in a room while police in camouflage uniforms stood guard with assault rifles.
Miami lawyer Richard Dansoh, who said he had worked for Mr Philippe in the past and had unsuccessfully tried to negotiate his surrender several years ago, said he expects the former rebel leader will soon be transported to Florida out of concern about how Haitians might react to the arrest of a senator.
“They don’t want to keep him in Haiti because there might be riots,” Mr Dansoh said.
At the heavily guarded police station near the airport where Mr Philippe was taken after his arrest, about 30 demonstrators gathered in the evening saying he should be released.
“Our country has no respect for people who are elected,” said Jean-Marc Denis, who is from the same southern province as the former rebel leader.
In the southern Haitian city of Jeremie, about 200 protesters, many carrying photos of Mr Philippe, also called for his release, threatening to start fires if he remained in custody.
Mr Philippe, who has a wife and two children in the US, recently won election to the Senate representing a district in southern Haiti but had not yet been sworn into office.
He is wanted on drug-trafficking charges including conspiracy to import cocaine into the US. In Haiti, he is a divisive figure who was one of the leaders of a violent 2004 rebellion that led to the ousting of the president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide.
Mr Philippe has spent most of his time in recent years in a remote, mountainous part of southern Haiti, where he had extensive family and business connections and it would have been difficult for authorities to locate and arrest him. Still, he would frequently appear in public and gave an extensive interview to the AP for an August 2016 profile.
In that interview, he insisted he is innocent of any crimes, blaming the accusations on enemies trying to silence him: “The path I chose, the way I chose, is not easy. But I chose it and I’m willing to die for it.”
In 2000, he was police chief of the northern city of Cap-Haitien when he fled to the neighbouring Dominican Republic after accusations he was plotting a coup. While in exile, he was accused of masterminding attacks on Haitian police stations and other targets.
He returned in 2004 to join the uprising against Mr Aristide, taking over a band of rebels that captured Cap-Haitien. Mr Aristide left the country aboard a US-supplied jet before Mr Philippe’s rebels reached the capital.
After rolling triumphantly into Port-au-Prince, Mr Philippe proclaimed himself “military chief” – but he gave up his arms as a UN stabilisation force geared up.
He ran for president in 2006, finishing a distant ninth. A year later, heavily armed US and Haitian anti-drug agents raided his home in Les Cayes but found only his family and a maid.