Chad’s Deby re-elected as army says it killed 300 rebels

Chad’s Deby re-elected as army says it killed 300 rebels
Chad’s Deby re-elected as army says it killed 300 rebels

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Nevin Al Sukari - Sana'a - Chadian President Idriss Deby Itno greets supporters as he leaves after casting his ballot at a polling station in N’djamena April 11, 2021. — AFP pic

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N’DJAMENA (Chad), April 20 — Chad’s President Idriss Deby Itno was re-elected to a sixth term with 79.32 per cent of April 11’s vote, provisional results showed yesterday, hours after the army said it had killed 300 fighters waging a rebel offensive launched on election day.

Deby, 68, has ruled Chad with iron fist for three decades and his re-election was never in serious doubt, with a divided opposition, boycott calls, and a campaign in which demonstrations were banned or dispersed.

Former prime minister Albert Pahimi Padacke came in second with just 10.32 per cent, and the turnout was 64.81 per cent, according to provisional figures announced by Independent National Electoral Commission chairman Kodi Mahamat Bam.

The first female president candidate in Chad’s history, Lydie Beassemda, came third with 3.16 per cent.

The provisional results still need to be approved by the Supreme Court after it studies potential legal appeals.

Officially nine candidates were running against Deby, but three withdrew and called for the vote to be boycotted, blasting the violent repression of peaceful opposition rallies. However the Supreme Court kept their names on the ballots.

Supporters and activists of Deby’s party the Patriotic Salvation Movement celebrated the results, singing and dancing in the central square of capital N’Djamena.

“We are celebrating a great victory in the first round, but also seriously on our minds are our brothers, our comrades, soldiers of the Chadian army who fell on the field,” the party’s secretary general Mahamat Zen Bada said.

Rebel offensive

Deby is a key ally in the West’s anti-jihadist campaign in the Sahel and he campaigned on a promise of bringing peace and security to the region.

But on election day, a heavily armed rebel group launched an incursion into Chad’s north from its rear base in Libya.

Today, Chad’s army said it had it had killed more than 300 rebels, capturing 150 more, and lost five soldiers in the eight days of fighting.

The government meanwhile sought to assure concerned residents that the offensive was over and calm had been restored.

The rebel raid in the provinces of Tibesti and Kanem was carried out by the Front for Change and Concord in Chad (FACT), based in Libya.

The group has a non-aggression pact with Khalifa Haftar, a military strongman who controls much of Libya’s east.

While the government had said Saturday that the rebel offensive was over, fighting had in fact resumed Sunday afternoon, army spokesman General Azem Bermandoa Agouna said.

“The situation is now calm on the front,” he told AFP yesterday.

FACT said in a statement Sunday that it had “liberated” the Kanem region. Such claims in remote desert combat zones are difficult to verify.

Tanks in the capital

There was panic in some areas of N’Djamena earlier yesterday after tanks were deployed along the city’s main roads, an AFP journalist reported.

The tanks were withdrawn in the late morning apart from a perimetre around the president’s office, which is under heavy security during normal times.

“The establishment of a security deployment in certain areas of the capital seems to have been misunderstood,” government spokesman Cherif Mahamat Zene said on Twitter.

“There is no particular threat to fear,” he added.

Roland Marchal of the Centre for International Studies at France’s Sciences Po university said the rebels were still 500 kilometres (around 300 miles) from N’Djamena.

“Deby’s interest is not to fight them as far out as possible but to keep troops around the capital,” he said.

France’s embassy said in an advisory to its nationals in Chad that the deployment was a precaution and there was no specific threat to the capital.

The US embassy in N’Djamena on Saturday ordered non-essential personnel to leave the country, warning of possible violence in the capital. Britain also urged its nationals to leave.

The Tibesti mountains near the Libyan frontier frequently see fighting between rebels and the army, as well as in the northeast bordering Sudan. French air strikes were needed to stop an incursion there in February 2019.

In February 2008, a rebel assault reached the gates of the presidential palace before being pushed back with French backing. — AFP

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