Chad protests turn deadly as demonstrators demand civilian rule

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Mahamat Idriss Deby, son of the late Chadian President Idriss Deby, sits in the front row during the state funeral for his father in N'Djamena, Chad April 23, 2021. Christophe Petit Tesson/Pool via REUTERS

At least five people have been killed in Chad as demonstrators took to the streets demanding a return to civilian rule after the military took control following President Idriss Deby’s death last week.

“There were four deaths in N’Djamena,” including “one killed by the demonstrators”, the capital’s prosecutor Youssouf Tom was quoted as saying by AFP news agency on Tuesday. One person was killed in the country’s second city Moundou, 400km (250 miles) to the south, another prosecutor said.

However, a local NGO reported nine fatalities – seven in the capital and two in the south. The Chadian Convention for the Defence of Human Rights said 36 people were also wounded and about 12 arrested.

“We denounce and condemn this massacre … (and) the disproportionate use of weapons of war against protesters,” it said.

Tuesday’s unrest underscores the tense atmosphere in Chad following Deby’s death, with the military transition already struggling to win over a population exhausted by 30 years of monolithic rule.

The ruling military council said on April 20 it had taken power after Deby succumbed to wounds sustained on the frontlines in the country’s north, where the Chadian army was fighting advancing rebels. The council, headed by Deby’s son Mahamat Idriss Deby, who was declared president, has said it will oversee an 18-month transition to elections.

After the violent protests on Tuesday, Mahamat Deby promised an “inclusive national dialogue” and also pledged to “fight terrorism and respect all its international obligations”.

A spokesman for the council said security forces were attempting to contain the protesters while limiting material damage.

Demonstrations banned

Police were deployed in Ndjamena to break up the planned demonstrations called by the opposition and civil society groups. They reportedly used tear gas in the capital to disperse small groups of demonstrators, some of whom burned tyres.

“We do not want our country to become a monarchy,” said 34-year-old protester Mbaidiguim Marabel. “The military must return to the barracks to make way for a civil transition.”

Some opposition politicians have called the military takeover a coup and asked supporters to protest, even as the army on Monday appointed a civilian politician, Albert Pahimi Padacke, as prime minister of a transitional government.

The military council had banned protests, saying in a statement on Monday no demonstrations that could lead to disorder were allowed while the country was still in mourning.

Trucks loaded with soldiers were seen patrolling the streets around central Ndjamena. “The police came, they fired tear gas, but we are not scared,” said Timothy Betouge, age 70.

“We are fed up, fed up, fed up with the monarchical dynasty in Chad,” one protester, Sarah, told AFP news agency, referring to the Deby family rule.

Behind her, a crowd ran in the streets shouting “police, police”, as security forces approached in a vehicle.

French President Emmanuel Macron condemned “with the greatest firmness the repression of demonstrations and the violence that took place this morning in Ndjamena”.

France has been a key ally in Chad’s battle against a revolt that has swept across the Sahel, though Macron has said he intends to eventually reduce the 5,100-strong Barkhane force Paris has deployed in the region for nearly a decade.

Shifting his position after earlier backing the military council and its civilian allies, Macron called for a civilian unity government to be put in place to run Chad, a former French colony, until elections to be held within 18 months.

“I am in favour of a peaceful, democratic, inclusive transition, I am not in favour of a succession plan. France will never support those who pursue such a project,” said Macron in an apparent reference to the role of Deby’s son.

The council is coming under international pressure to hand over power to civilians as soon as possible.

In a communique released last week (PDF), the African Union’s Peace and Security Council expressed “grave concern” about the military takeover.

It added it was “deeply concerned about the evolving situation in Chad and the potential threat to peace, security and stability”.

Meanwhile, France, the former colonial ruler, and some of Chad’s neighbours are pushing for a civilian-military solution.