By Sarah Marsh
HAVANA (Reuters) - Fresh turmoil hit Haiti's government on Wednesday as Prime Minister Ariel Henry replaced his justice minister and a senior official stepped down, saying he could not serve a premier under suspicion in the assassination of President Jovenel Moise.
Amid a brewing political crisis, Henry replaced Justice Minister Rockfeller Vincent with Interior Minister Liszt Quitel, who will take charge of both portfolios, according to a statement in Haiti's official gazette.
The resignation of Renald Luberice, who served more than four years as secretary general of Haiti's Council of Ministers, came after new evidence emerged linking Henry to the former justice ministry official who investigates say is one of the main suspects behind Moise's killing.
Prosecutors say phone records show the two spoke twice around 4 a.m. on July 7, just hours after Moise, 53, was shot dead https://www.reuters.com/world/americas/haitian-president-shot-dead-home-overnight-pm-2021-07-07 when heavily-armed assassins stormed his private residence.
Henry has denied any involvement in the murder but he has not directly addressed the phone calls and on Tuesday he replaced https://www.reuters.com/article/us-haiti-politics-idAFKBN2GA1RJ Haiti's chief prosecutor who had been seeking to charge him as a suspect and ban him from leaving the country.
The premier last week dismissed attempts to interview him over Moise's killing as politicking designed to distract him from the work at hand in the poorest country in the Americas where power struggles have for decades hampered development.
In a letter shared on social media on Wednesday, Luberice said he cannot serve someone who "does not intend to cooperate with justice, seeking, on the contrary, by all means, to obstruct it."
Henry on Wednesday replaced Luberice with Josue Pierre-Louis, a veteran technocrat who has since 2017 held the rank of government minister in his role as the General Coordinator of the Office of Management and Human Resources (OMRH), according to the gazette statement.
KILLING AND CRISIS
More than 40 people including 18 Colombians have been detained so far as part of the investigation into Moise's killing. The investigation has made little apparent progress to solve the mystery and has been riddled with irregularities.
Several judicial officials went into hiding after saying they received death threats while the original judge assigned to the case recused himself.
Moise named Henry, a neurosurgeon and political moderate, to the position of prime minister just days before he was assassinated in a bid to placate the political tensions that plagued his mandate and led to a major constitutional and political crisis.
The country has just a handful of elected officials after failing two years ago to hold legislative or municipal elections amid a political gridlock. Moise had ruled by decree. But there is no constitutional framework for a government in a situation like the current one.
As such, Henry needs a broad consensus in order to govern. On the weekend he announced an agreement between Haiti's main political forces on a transition government aiming to lead next year to elections and a new constitutional referendum.
But any sign of weakness could lead to a fresh power struggle.
Senate President Joseph Lambert, who tried to claim the presidency in the days following Moise's killing as the most senior elected official remaining, made a fresh swipe at the post on Tuesday evening.
He called local media to cover his swearing in at parliament but a gunfight interrupted proceedings. The Senate in a statement blamed the shootings on gangs that were "hired by dark forces in order to thwart the work of the Senators".
Lambert has called for a news conference on Wednesday evening.
His likely claim to power will be "another quagmire to this extra-constitutional scenario we find ourselves in", said a western diplomat based in Port-au-Prince.
(Reporting by Sarah Marsh; Editing by Alistair Bell and Lincoln Feast.)