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Chad’s President Idriss Déby dies after clashes with rebels

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image captionIdriss Deby, seen here in 2020, had been in power for 30 years

Chad’s President Idriss Déby has died of his injuries following clashes with rebels in the north of the country at the weekend, the army has said.

The announcement came a day after provisional election results projected he would win a sixth term in office.

The government and parliament have been dissolved. A curfew has also been imposed and the borders have been shut.

Déby, 68, spent more than three decades in power and was one of Africa’s longest-serving leaders.

An army officer by training, he came to power in 1990 through an armed uprising. He was a long-time ally of France and other Western powers in the battle against jihadist groups in the Sahel region of Africa.

Déby “breathed his last defending the sovereign nation on the battlefield”, an army general said on state TV on Tuesday.

He had gone to the front line, several hundred kilometres north of the capital N’Djamena, at the weekend to visit troops battling rebels belonging to a group calling itself Fact (the Front for Change and Concord in Chad).

A military council led by Déby’s son, a 37-year-old four star general, will govern for the next 18 months.

Mahamat Idriss Déby Itno will lead the council but “free and democratic” elections will be held once the transition period is over, the army said in its statement.

Ahead of the election on 11 April, Déby campaigned on a platform of bringing peace and security to the region.

But there has been growing unhappiness over his government’s management of Chad’s oil resources.

A death that leaves a vacuum

Idriss Déby was known as that rare thing – a true warrior president. The former rebel and trained pilot was the opposite of an arm-chair general.

For 30 years he clung to power in Chad – a vast nation that straddles the Sahara and is surrounded by some of the continent’s most protracted conflicts.

And Déby had a hand in every one of them. From Darfur, to Libya, Mali, Nigeria and the Central African Republic. His troops were among the most battle-hardened on the planet.

Domestically, he had become an increasingly autocratic figure. His latest election victory saw him claim nearly 80% of the vote.

It is unclear if the poor, feuding, brittle state he leaves behind can manage a smooth transition.

And there are wider concerns too. For years, President Déby was the West’s indispensable ally in the war against Islamist militants – in Mali, Niger and beyond.

His death leaves a vacuum that many may now fight to fill.

Founded in 2016 by disillusioned former army officers, the rebel Fact group accuses President Déby of repression in the run-up to the election.

They built up their base in Libya in the Tibesti mountains, which straddle northern Chad and part of southern Libya.

On election day the group mounted an attack on a border post and gradually advanced on N’Djamena.

The latest clashes began on Saturday. An army general told Reuters news agency that 300 insurgents were killed and 150 were captured. Five government soldiers were killed and 36 were injured, he said. The figures could not immediately be verified.

Some foreign embassies in the capital have urged their staff to leave.

N’Djamena has come under rebel attack before and there was panic in the city on Monday, with parents taking their children home from school, when tanks were deployed along the main roads.

Five things about Chad:

image copyrightGetty Images

1) It is named after Lake Chad. This is the second-largest lake in Africa, but has shrunk by 90% since the 1960s. Its basin covers parts of Nigeria, Niger, Chad and Cameroon, and is a water source for between 20 million and 30 million people.

2) The Sahara Desert roughly covers one third of the country. Much of the north is desert and home to a mere 1% of Chad’s population. The south has large expanses of wooded savannahs and woodlands.

3) Remains of a seven-million-year-old human-like creature – or hominid – known as “Toumai” were unearthed in 2001. Its discoverers argued that Toumai was the oldest hominid known to science.

4) Chad became an oil-producing nation in 2003, with the completion of a $4bn (£2.87bn) pipeline linking its oilfields to terminals on the Atlantic coast. The industry has been plagued by allegations of corruption.

5) Agriculture is the main source of livelihood for most people – cotton is grown in the south, and exported to Europe and the US.

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