Deadly clashes between police and demonstrators protesting at the military’s grip on power erupted in Chad on Thursday, claiming “about 30” lives, including around 10 members of the security forces, according to an official toll.
Hundreds of demonstrators turned out in the capital N’Djamena to mark the date when the military had initially promised to hand over power — a spell that has been extended for another two years.
“There were about 30 deaths, including about 10 among the security forces, and several injured,” government spokesman Aziz Mahamat Saleh told AFP.
“A banned demonstration became an insurrection,” he said.
He accused demonstrators of attacking “public buildings”, including the offices of the governor, the headquarters of the prime minister’s party and that of the speaker of parliament.
An AFP reporter saw five bodies on the floor of the city’s Union Chagoua Hospital, two of which were covered with the Chadian national flag and three with bloodied white sheets.
The head doctor, Joseph Ampil, later confirmed to AFP that five individuals had “died from gunshots”.
Palls of black smoke could be seen in some parts of the city and the crack of teargas grenades could be heard.
Barricades were set up in several districts and tyres were set alight in the main avenues to block traffic.
In an opposition stronghold, streets were deserted and littered with tree branches and piles of bricks. Schools and university establishments were closed, and many traders in the city centre lowered their shutters.
The headquarters of Prime Minister Saleh Kebzabo’s UNDR party was also attacked by demonstrators “and partially burned down”, UNDR Vice President Celestin Topona told AFP.
France, Chad’s former colonial power, condemned the violence, noting it featured “the use of lethal weapons against demonstrators”.
“France is not playing any part in these events, which lie strictly in Chad’s domestic political domain,” the foreign ministry said.
“False information about France’s purported involvement is baseless.”
Moussa Faki Mahamat, head of the African Union Commission, posted a tweet to “firmly condemn the repression” of the protests and call for peaceful ways to overcome the country’s “crisis”.
– Key date –
The violence comes on the heels of a national forum organised by military strongman Mahamat Idriss Deby Itno that extended his stay in power.
The 38-year-old five-star general took over in April 2021 after his iron-fisted father, Idriss Deby Itno, in power for three decades, was killed during an operation against rebels.
The younger Deby has since angered many at home and embarrassed backers abroad by staying in power beyond his initially promised deadline, which would have expired on Thursday.
“They’re firing on us. They are killing our people,” Succes Masra, whose Transformers party was among groups that had called the protest, said on Twitter.
“The Soldiers of the one-and-only General who refused to honour his word and on the day when the 18 months are up — this is how he intends to install the (Deby) dynasty.”
Deby’s junta had originally declared it would restore civilian rule after 18 months in power and he initially promised not to take part in elections that would follow.
But as this deadline neared, a nationwide forum staged by Deby reset the clock.
On October 1, the conference approved a new “maximum” 24-month timeframe for holding elections.
It also named Deby “transitional president” and declared he could be a candidate in the poll.
Deby was sworn in on October 10, and later appointed a so-called government of national union headed by Kebzabo, a 75-year-old former journalist and one-time opposition figure.
One protester, Abass Mahamat, 35, said he had chosen to voice his anger at “this facade of a dialogue which entrenches the system”.
“In 31 years, we haven’t seen any positive change in our country.”
The vast, arid Sahel state has had a long history of coups and political turmoil since it gained independence from France in 1960.
During his long stay in power, the elder Deby fought off several attempts to unseat him by rebels crossing from Libya and Sudan.
He was supported by France, which deemed him a strong ally in its campaign against jihadism in the Sahel.