Chad’s long-serving President Idriss Deby has died from injuries sustained in clashes with rebels, the army said in a surprise announcement Tuesday, plunging a volatile region deeper into crisis.
Army spokesman Azem Bermendao Agouna told state TV said Deby – a longtime Western ally in efforts to quell Islamist militias in north Africa – died “as a result of his injuries on the front line.” Reuters said Deby had been visiting troops fighting rebels in the north of the country.
The announcement came a day after it was announced that Deby, who had been in power for 30 years, was projected to win a sixth consecutive term in elections held earlier this month.
Rebels, who have been seeking to oust Deby since 2016, had claimed a number of victories in the past week and clashes were reported in the north of the country at the weekend.
Rebels of the Front for Change and Concord in Chad – known in French as Front Pour l’Alternance et La Concorde au Tchad (FACT) – said Friday it had overrun a military garrison in Gouri. The claim was denied by the government, which instead said the rebels had been defeated.
On Monday FACT said that Deby was injured and on the run.
“Faithful to the oath made to the nation and the Chadian people, the Marshal of Chad, President of the Republic, Head of State, Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, Idriss Déby Itno, has just breathed his last defending the sovereign nation on the battlefield,” Agouna said in his statement. “It is with deep bitterness that we announce to the Chadian people the death this Tuesday, April 20, 2021, of Chadian Marshal Idriss Déby Itno as a result of his injuries on the frontline,” he said.
Agouna said a transitional military council would take charge of the country for 18 months “to assure the defense of our dear country facing this war against terrorism and evil forces”.
Deby’s son, General Mahamat Kaka, will serve as president of the transitional council, according to Agouna. Analysts questioned whether the move was constitutional.
Agouna promised there would be “free, democratic and transparent elections following the spirit of sacrifice for which the marshal fought during his life.”
The army declared a 14-day period of national mourning and imposed an overnight curfew. Air and land borders would close until further notice.