Chad bids farewell to Deby as France, allies back his son

N'Djamena, Chad: Chad bids farewell to Deby as France and regional allies back his son Chad held a state funeral on Friday for veteran ruler Idriss Deby Itno, a linchpin in the war against the Sahel's jihadist insurgency, as France and regional allies backed his son and successor, Mahamat Idriss Deby.

The army said Tuesday that the elder Deby, who had governed the vast semi-desert state with an iron fist for 30 years, died from wounds suffered while battling rebels over the weekend.

His death has shocked the Sahel and its ally and former colonial ruler France, which is fighting a jihadist insurgency that has spread through three countries in nine years.

Thousands of people have died as a result of the violence, and hundreds of thousands have been forced to flee their homes.

Deby's coffin was carried to the Place de la Nation square in the capital N'Djamena, draped in the national flag and surrounded by elite soldiers, for ceremonies attended by foreign leaders, including French President Emmanuel Macron.

A 21-gun salute rang out for Deby, who had just been named field marshal in August – the first in Chad's history – after leading an offensive against jihadists in the country's west.

In a tribute to the late president, Macron said, "you lived as a soldier, you died as a soldier, arms in your hands."

"France will never, today or tomorrow, allow anyone to undermine Chad's unity and dignity," Macron vowed.

FRENCH PRESIDENT EMMANUEL MACRON ADRESSED DEBY'S FUNEREL CEREMONY IN CHAD (IMAGE COURTESY OF REGINA SONDO VIA TWITTER)

Macron, on the other hand, urged the newly installed military government to promote "stability, inclusion, dialogue, and democratic change."

A similar message was sent to Deby's son during a meeting earlier this month with Macron and the presidents of Burkina Faso, Mali, Mauritania, and Niger, according to a French presidential aide.

Meanwhile, the African Union urged Chad's security forces to "respect the constitutional mandate and order, and to expedite the process of restoring constitutional order and handing over political authority to civilian authorities."

The Peace and Security Council of the UN also called for "an all-inclusive national dialogue" and expressed "grave concern" about the creation of a military council.

After his father's death was declared, the younger Deby, a 37-year-old four-star general commanding the elite Republican Guard, was elected president and head of a military council. Parliament and the government have also been disbanded.

He will have full authority, but he has pledged "free and fair" elections following an 18-month transition period that can be extended once.

The opposition has called the move an "institutional coup."

The International Federation of Human Rights (FIDH) urged the return to civilian rule as soon as possible on Friday, citing Deby's "terrible repression."

Deby's death came only one day after he was proclaimed the winner of an April 11 referendum, granting him the sixth mandate after three decades in power.

The army said on Monday that the 68-year-old died of wounds sustained while leading troops in combat against rebels who had crossed from Libya.

Following a pause for the funeral, the Front for Change and Concord in Chad (FACT) has vowed to resume its offensive, with spokesman Kingabe Ogouzeimi de Tapol telling AFP that the rebels were "en route to N'Djamena."

Troubled nation 

Deby took power in a chronically unstable country in 1990 and had twice foiled coup attempts with French assistance.

He was consistently re-elected in elections that critics said were rigged.

However, he earned a reputation in the West as a steadfast ally in the fight against jihadists, whose campaign has shaken the vast, impoverished Sahel.

Chad's armed forces are well-regarded, and the country is home to the headquarters of France's 5,100-strong Barkhane anti-jihadist mission.

It also collaborates with Burkina Faso, Mali, Mauritania, and Niger in the G5 Sahel anti-jihad alliance.

According to a source at the G5 Sahel secretariat in Nouakchott, the group may appoint Burkina's president, Roch Marc Christian Kabore, as interim leader to replace Deby, who had been its chairman under a rotational arrangement.

French armored escort 

Macron was the only Western head of state to attend the ceremony, having departed for France mid-afternoon.

According to an AFP journalist, Macron was escorted to the embassy by French armored vehicles after arriving at the military base that serves as Barkhane's headquarters.

The funeral was accompanied by prayers at the Grand Mosque in the capital.

Deby's body was then flown a thousand kilometers (600 miles) east to the village of Amdjarass near the Sudanese border, where he was to be buried alongside his father, near his birthplace of Berdoba.

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