Slain Chad Leader's Son Takes Power As Rivals Slam 'Coup'

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Chad faced an uncertain future Wednesday as the son of slain leader Idriss Deby Itno took power in what the opposition called a coup and Western allies that rely on the country's military might pleaded for stability.

Deby had ruled the impoverished desert state for three decades before the army announced his death on Tuesday from wounds suffered while leading troops in battle against rebels.

President of Chad dies on battlefield after winning sixth reelection President of Chad dies on battlefield after winning sixth reelection  AFPTV / Renaud MASBEYE BOYBEYE

The shock demise of the 68-year-old led to immediate concerns of a power vacuum in Chad, which sits at the heart of the troubled Sahel region and is key to the West's anti-jihadist efforts.

Deby's death was announced only a day after provisional results declared him the winner of an April 11 election giving him a sixth term in office.

The outcome was never in doubt, with a divided opposition, boycott calls, and a campaign in which demonstrations were banned or dispersed.

Chadian soldiers were deployed in the capital after the announcement of Deby's death Chadian soldiers were deployed in the capital after the announcement of Deby's death  AFPTV / -

Allies of the late leader moved swiftly to assure power remained in their hands, installing Deby's 37-year-old son Mahamat Idriss Deby as president and head of a transitional military council while dissolving parliament and the government.

They tore up Chad's constitution and established a "Transition Charter" that lays out a new basic law for the country of 16 million people spanning western and central Africa.

The charter proclaims that Mahamat, who had been head of the powerful presidential guard, will "occupy the functions of the president" and also serve as head of the armed forces.

Chad's slain president Idriss Deby Itno had been declared the winner of an April election Chad's slain president Idriss Deby Itno had been declared the winner of an April election  AFP / Pascal GUYOT

The transition period is meant to last 18 months and lead to democratic elections, though it can be extended once.

Mahamat Idriss Déby Itno has been proclaimed president of the republic Mahamat Idriss Déby Itno has been proclaimed president of the republic  AFP / MARCO LONGARI

Chad's main opposition parties were unconvinced, denouncing an "institutional coup d'etat" in a statement and calling on citizens "not to obey illegitimate decisions" by the military council.

Beyond that, the threat remained from rebels who launched an incursion into northern Chad from Libya on the day of the April 11 election despite army claims they had been defeated.

Key facts on Chad President Idriss Deby Key facts on Chad President Idriss Deby  AFP / Alain BOMMENEL

The rebel group, known as FACT, told AFP on Tuesday it would pursue its offensive after a pause for Deby's state funeral on Friday.

"We categorically reject the transition," FACT spokesman Kingabe Ogouzeimi de Tapol said. "Our troops are en route towards N'Djamena."

Gun-toting soldiers in fatigues and members of the red-bereted presidential guard were seen patrolling the capital in the aftermath of Deby's death.

Flags were flying at half mast in the Chad capital Flags were flying at half mast in the Chad capital  AFP / Djimet WICHE

But on Wednesday, banks, markets and most shops were open while the national flag flew at half-mast on public buildings.

A night curfew has been eased and the borders have reopened.

For Western countries, particularly former colonial power France, the death of Deby meant the loss of their staunchest ally in the fight against jihadists in Africa's Sahel, where myriad Islamist extremist groups operate.

France's 5,100-strong Barkhane anti-jihadist force is headquartered in N'Djamena, while Chad's military has led successful raids against Islamist extremists.

Deby had in the past gone to the frontlines to lead troops into battle himself, including during a 2020 raid against the Boko Haram extremist group.

The European Union and France, whose President Emmanuel Macron will attend Deby's funeral on Friday along with 10 other heads of state, have called for a peaceful transition limited in timeframe.

The EU's foreign policy chief Josep Borrell will also attend the funeral as part of a regional trip intended to show that "the Sahel remains high on the European agenda", he said in a statement Wednesday.

"My visit is testament to our continued engagement in this region whose stability, security and development are priorities for the European Union," said Borrell, who will fly into Chad from Mauritania before heading to Mali.

He had earlier called however for the transition period to be "limited", to respect human rights and allow for "new inclusive elections".

The United States meanwhile urged a peaceful transition that abided by the constitution -- a demand that has already been ignored.

Some analysts expressed concern over whether Deby's death could unleash new violence and said divisions within Chad's powerful security apparatus could emerge, particularly with an inexperienced strongman at the helm.

Only days ago the army had claimed a "great victory" against fighters from FACT, or the Front for Change and Concord in Chad.

The military said Monday it had killed more than 300 rebels and captured 150 others, with the loss of five soldiers -- without mentioning Deby's injuries.

"Chad's regional and international partners should closely monitor the situation and use their influence to prevent abuses against civilians."

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