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Chad leader Deby killed in battle

People drive past a Chad army tank near the presidential palace, after Chad’s President Idriss Deby, who ruled the country for more than 30 years and was an important Western ally, was killed on the f
People drive past a Chad army tank near the presidential palace, after Chad’s President Idriss Deby, who ruled the country for more than 30 years and was an important Western ally, was killed on the frontline in a battle against rebels in the north, in N’djamena, Chad April 20, 2021. REUTERS/Oredje Narcisse NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVES
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N'DJAMENA — Chad's President Idriss Deby, who ruled his country for more than 30 years and was an important Western ally in the fight against terrorist militants in Africa, has been killed in a battle against rebels in the north.اضافة اعلان

His son, Mahamat Idriss Deby Itmo, was named interim president by a transitional council of military officers, army spokesman Azem Bermendao Agouna said on state television.

Deby, 68, took power in a rebellion in 1990 and was one of Africa's longest-ruling leaders, surviving numerous coup attempts and rebellions. His death could deepen Chad's problems, and those of its allies.

On the domestic front, the military is divided and the opposition bridling against years of repressive rule.

Internationally, France and the United States will be hoping their counter-terrorism efforts are not now pushed off course. France said that it had lost "brave friend" and Chad "a great soldier".

He was killed just after he was declared winner of a presidential election that would have given him a sixth term in office. Most of the opposition boycotted the vote.

Deby — who often joined soldiers on the battlefront in his military fatigues — visited troops on the frontline on Monday after rebels based across the northern frontier in Libya advanced hundreds of kilometers south toward the capital N'Djamena.

"Marshal Idriss Deby Itno, as he did each time that the institutions of the republic were gravely threatened, took control of operations during the heroic combat led against the terrorists from Libya. He was wounded during the fighting and died once repatriated to N'Djamena," Bermendao said.

The government and National Assembly have been dissolved and a nationwide curfew imposed from 6pm to 5am.

"The National Council of Transition reassures the Chadian people that all measures have been taken to guarantee peace, security, and the republican order," Bermendao said.

The military council said it would lead a transition for a period of 18 months leading to free and fair elections.

Deby had pushed through a new constitution in 2018 that would have allowed him to stay in power until 2033. He said before last week's election: "I know in advance that I will win, as I have done for the last 30 years."

He was dealing with mounting public discontent over his management of Chad's oil wealth and crackdowns on opponents. In the election results, Deby claimed 79 percent of the vote.

A Reuters reporter in N'Djamena said people were in a panic as news of his death spread, fearing that fighting could break out in the city. Many were fleeing to the outskirts and roads were jammed with traffic. 

Western countries had counted on Deby as an ally in the fight against terrorists, including Boko Haram in the Lake Chad Basin and groups linked to Al-Qaeda and Daesh in the Sahel.

France, the former colonial power, had based its Sahel counter-terrorism operations in N'Djamena. Chad had announced in February the deployment of 1,200 troops to complement 5,100 French soldiers in the area.

The French presidency praised Deby and affirmed its support for Chad's stability and territorial integrity. In a statement, it noted the formation of the interim council headed by Mahamat Idriss Deby Itmo but said it hoped there would be a quick and peaceful return to civilian rule.

Deby's death could mean tremendous uncertainty for Chad, said Nathaniel Powell, author of a history of French military involvement in Chad.

"The swift announcement of the establishment of a military council and naming his son Mahamat as head of state however indicates regime continuity," Powell told Reuters.

The latest rebel actions had already caused alarm in Washington and other Western capitals.

Fighters of the Libya-based Front for Change and Concord in Chad (FACT) attacked a border post on election day then advanced hundreds of kilometers (miles) south through the vast country.

But the Chadian military appeared to have slowed its progress.

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