(PARIS) — Newly reelected president of Chad, Marshal Idriss Déby Itno, died Tuesday on the battlefield in clashes with rebels, according to the Chadian army.
“Supreme Chief of the Armed Forces, Idriss Déby Itno has just given his last breath while defending the territorial integrity on the battlefield. It is with deep bitterness that we announce to the Chadian people the death, this Tuesday, April 20, 2021, of Marshal of Chad … as a result of his injuries to the forehead,” Chad army spokesman, General Azem Bermandoa Agouna, said during a statement on Tchad TV.
One of Africa’s longest-ruling leaders, Déby was injured on the front line in the Kanem region where rebel groups took control of the territory, Chad’s presidential office told ABC News.
Déby’s death comes amid the nation’s army’s battles with rebel group Front for Change and Concord in Chad (FACT). The rebels entered Chad through Libya on the country’s election day, April 11, a FACT representative told ABC News.
The U.S. State Department raised Chad’s travel advisory to a red-alert Level 4 Saturday, urging all Americans not to travel to the country “due to civil unrest and armed violence” and listing COVID-19 as a reason to “reconsider” travel to Chad.
On Saturday, Chadian government spokesperson Chérif Mahamat Zene said that rebels advancing on N’Djamena — Chad’s capitol city — had been defeated, but that fighting had later resumed.
Déby was declared winner of the presidential elections on Monday, April 19 — the day before his death — which would have given him another six years in office. According to provisional results announced by the Independent National Electoral Commission (CENI), Déby had won the election with 79.32% of the votes.
Déby ruled with an iron fist for 30 years and was accused of fixing elections. According to Human Rights Watch, Chadian security forces led a relentless crackdown on protesters and political opposition to the 2021 presidential election, compromising the ability of Chadians to freely choose their elected representatives, HRW said on April 8.
At 68, he had been the all-powerful head of state of Chad taking over via a coup on Dec. 2, 1990.
Despite a poor human rights record, he was a key counterterrorism ally of France, the U.S. and others in Africa’s Sahel region.
In the wake of the announcement of Déby’s death, Chad’s constitution was suspended and a military council is governing the country. A curfew from 6 p.m. to 5 a.m. was established throughout the national territory and land and air borders are closed until further notice, the Temporary Military Council announced in a press release.
Ned Price, spokesperson for the U.S. Department of State, offered “the people of Chad our sincere condolences as they mourn the passing of President Idriss Deby Itno” in a statement “on behalf of the United States.”
The statement added: “We condemn recent violence and loss of life in Chad. The United States stands with the people of Chad during this difficult time. We support a peaceful transition of power in accordance with the Chadian constitution.”
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