Chad on edge as rebels threaten to advance on capital after president's death

A military council led by General Mahamat Idriss Deby took over power after Deby's father, Chad's long-ruling leader Idriss Deby, was killed

  

N'DJAMENA- Chad's new military leaders received backing from France on Thursday despite protestations from the political opposition and some army officers as rebels geared up to resume an offensive on the capital.

A military council led by General Mahamat Idriss Deby took over power after Deby's father, Chad's long-ruling leader Idriss Deby, was killed in battle with the Libya-based rebels on Monday.

Dignitaries from across the region were due to start arriving on Thursday for Deby's funeral ceremony on Friday, after the rebels said they had ended a brief ceasefire at midnight and were about 200-300 km (125-190 miles) from the capital.

General Deby, 37, has said the army will hold democratic elections in 18 months, but opposition leaders have condemned his takeover as a coup d'etat and an army general said many officers were opposed to the transition plan. 

France, Chad's former colonial ruler, defended the military takeover on Thursday, saying it was necessary for security amid "exceptional circumstances". 

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said the military was justified in its actions as the speaker of parliament had declined to take charge.

"Logically, it should be (speaker Haroun) Kabadi...but he refused because of the exceptional security reasons that were needed to ensure the stability of this country," Le Drian told France 2 television.

Deby, although criticised by human rights groups for his repressive rule over three decades, was a lynchpin in France's security strategy in Africa.

About 5,100 French troops are based across the region as part of international operations to fight Islamist militants and France has its main base in N'Djamena.

DIVIDED RANKS

Dissent within the military has raised concerns about stability in Chad.

"Kaka (Mahamat Deby) only has partial support of the army. He is young and, unlike his father, has never been a rebel," said Jerome Tubiana, an analyst specialising on Chad.

"Within the army, there's indeed (at least) two groups."

Deby, 68, was killed on Monday on the frontline against fighters of the Front for Change and Concord in Chad (FACT), a group formed by dissident army officers in 2016 which says it is pro-democracy.

The group warned foreign leaders invited to Deby's funeral on Friday, which include French President Emmanuel Macron, not to attend for their security.

Ten African heads of state including Democratic Republic of Congo's Felix Tshisekedi and Guinea's Alpha Conde were due to arrive on Thursday for the funeral, the government said.

Despite the rebel threat, people went about their business as usual in N'Djamena on Thursday, with some saying they were frustrated and worried about the situation.

"We are tired of war. We have seen what is happpening in neighbouring countries like Libya, CAR, Nigeria and Niger. Every time we find peace to construct the country, a band of discontented people sets us back," said Issa Mahamat Oumar, a resident of N'Djamena.

Even if FACT is not powerful enough to take on the new military council, the risk of instability is high, said a Western diplomat who spoke on condition of anonymity.

"This rebel group on its own may not be enough of a threat to bring down the government. But other groups might exploit this moment," he said. "Young Deby will probably have to strike some deals to get enough people behind the transition."

(Additional reporting by David Lewis in Nairobi and John Irish in Paris; Writing by Nellie Peyton; Editing by Angus MacSwan) ((nellie.peyton2@thomsonreuters.com; +221 77 298 1636;))

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