Foreign leaders attend funeral for Chad president

In this file photo taken on June 30, 2004 former Chadian president Idriss Deby answers to reporters in his palace of Njamena. Deby died on April 20, 2021 from wounds sustained in battle after three de
In this file photo taken on June 30, 2004 former Chadian president Idriss Deby answers to reporters in his palace of Njamena. Deby died on April 20, 2021 from wounds sustained in battle after three decades in power. His son, who took power, now faces opposition from political parties and advancing rebels. (Photo: AFP) +
The leaders of several African nations and the president of France on Friday attended the funeral of President Idriss Déby of Chad, one of Africa’s most enduring and feared autocrats whose death from injuries sustained in clashes between rebels and government forces was announced this week.اضافة اعلان

Despite abuses directed at his own people during his 31-year rule, Déby had benefited from the indulgence of Western powers as he remained a steady linchpin for their military interventions against Islamist insurgents in the region. His death has thrown the future of the vast African nation into uncertainty.

The Chadian military announced this week that Déby, 68, had died Monday — the same day that his victory in a sixth election, marred by irregularities, had been confirmed.

President Emmanuel Macron of France traveled to the Chadian capital, Ndjamena, for Déby’s funeral, a sign of the significance that his country has attached to Chad in recent years, amid a fight against insurgents.

Groups linked to the Islamic State and al-Qaida have been active in the Lake Chad basin and the Sahel, an arid swath south of the Sahara spanning six African countries, threatening security in the region.

Jean-Yves Le Drian, the French foreign minister, said Thursday that Chad’s stability was crucial to the Sahel, and “also Europe’s security,” in an interview on French television this week.

The European Union’s foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell Fontelles, also attended the funeral, along with the heads of state of Cameroon, the Congo, Guinea and Niger, among others, despite security concerns.

The rebel group that claimed responsibility for Déby’s death, the Front for Change and Concord in Chad, threatened to march on Ndjamena on Friday, after the funeral, and had warned foreign leaders not to attend.

Thousands lined the streets of Ndjamena during the ceremony. Déby was expected to be laid to rest Friday afternoon in his hometown, Amdjarass, near the border with Sudan in eastern Chad.

Tensions remained high in the capital this week after a military council installed Mahamat Idriss Déby, Déby’s 37-year-old son, as interim president. Political opponents have denounced the move as a coup d’état because the Chadian Constitution dictates that the president of the National Assembly should become the interim leader until elections are held.

And questions remain about the circumstances surrounding Déby’s death, with uncertainty over whether he was killed in clashes or during a meeting with the rebel group, or whether he was in fact killed by a rival.

At the funeral Friday, Déby’s family praised “a great fighter” who was “obsessed with peace and the unity of Chadians.”

“You’ve left while walking toward the enemy,” said Abdelkrim Idriss Déby, another of Déby’s sons.

Macron said Déby had lived as a soldier and died as one.

“Idriss, you were an exemplary chief and a courageous warrior, but you also knew the value of diplomacy and cooperation between peoples,” Macron said at the funeral Friday.

In Chad, one of the world’s poorest nations despite vast oil resources, Déby’s death leaves a major void. But it could also have a crucial impact on how France conducts security operations in the region.

France has long relied on Chad, a former colony, as a support base for its own troops and as a strategic partner for operations in the Sahel region, with a continued military presence in Ndjamena since 1986.

Its counterterrorism operation in the Sahel, known as Operation Barkhane, is headquartered in the capital. The French president’s office said Monday that the nation had lost “a courageous friend” with Déby’s death.

Thomas Gassilloud, a French lawmaker who sits on a parliamentary committee focusing on the relationship between France and Chad, said that Déby had long offered stability in a region where that was difficult to find.

“Chad is at the crossroads of zones that have faced multiple security crises in recent years: Libya to the north, Niger to the west, and the Central African Republic to the south,” he said, noting that Déby had studied at the prestigious Paris-based military school that trains senior French army officers. “France was used to working with Déby, and when it came to military operations in the Sahel, they spoke the same language.”

Macron arrived in Ndjamena on Thursday evening, before the funeral, and met with Mahamat Idriss Déby at the presidential palace. French authorities have said that “exceptional circumstances” in Chad justified the installation of Déby’s son as interim president.

Roland Marchal, a longtime expert on Chad at the Paris-based Sciences Po university, said that Macron’s meeting with Mahamat Idriss Déby showed French approval for what several analysts consider a coup, noting that Paris had not publicly called for the Chadian Constitution to be respected, unlike US officials have.

“France wants to keep a privileged relationship with the Chadian authorities,” Marchal said, “and for that it is ready to accept that the constitution of a country be swept away.”

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