Thousands of people attended Chad’s slain chief Idriss Deby’s funeral on Friday, with French President Emmanuel Macron leading tributes to the long-ruling strongman whose death in a war with rebels has plunged the nation into chaos.
Macron said that France will not allow anyone to jeopardise the security of its former colonies, reflecting concerns that further unrest would impede the war against Islamist militants across the Sahel region.
According to Chadian officials, Deby, a lynchpin of Western security policy, was killed on Monday in a struggle against a rebel army led by dissident army officers who are not tied to jihadists.
Macron said in his speech to mourners that France had backed Chad’s transition to democracy after a military council seized over following Deby’s death.
According to a source close to the French presidency, France and neighbouring countries are calling for a transitional government that is both civilian and military. Succes Masra, a leading opposition leader, backed the approach, pushing for a civilian transitional president with a military-appointed vice president.
The African Union’s Peace and Security Council expressed “grave concern” about the military takeover and urging the authorities to “expeditiously” move to hand power over to civilians.
The military council has said it intends to oversee an 18-month transition to elections while leading the response to the rebel offensive.
The rebels said on Friday their command center was bombed on Wednesday night in an attempt to kill their leader.
They have swept south across the vast desert nation from their bases in Libya, and have said they are about 200-300 km (125-190 miles) from the capital, N’Djamena.
Despite warnings from the rebels not to attend for their own security, African presidents and prime ministers joined dignitaries and ordinary citizens in the city’s Place de la Nation for the funeral ceremony.
Deby’s coffin, draped in a national flag, was carried on a military truck flanked by a motorcycle escort. Weeping swelled from the crowd and a 21-gun salute boomed across the city.
Macron was seated for the ceremony next to Deby’s son Mahamat Idriss Deby, who was appointed interim president for an 18-month transitional period by the military council.
“France will not let anybody put into question or threaten today or tomorrow Chad’s stability and integrity,” Macron said in his speech.
“France will also be there to keep alive without waiting the promise of a peaceful Chad creating a place for all of its children and components,” he said, calling the late president a friend and courageous soldier who had given his life to his country.
Human rights groups have accused France and other Western powers of turning a blind eye to government repression during Deby’s 30-year rule because of his co-operation on security matters.
As the funeral took place, Masra, wrote on Twitter that the police had surrounded his party’s headquarters. He posted a photo of several police cars parked outside.
“In the middle of the ceremony honoring Idriss Deby, the son sends the police to encircle the Transformers headquarters,” Masra wrote, referring to the name of his party. “The world therefore sees that the system has not changed.”
The authorities could not be immediately reached for comment.
Nonetheless, many Chadians were deeply upset by Deby’s death.
“He protected us for so long that today we have come to wish him eternal rest. A deserved rest,” said N’Djamena resident Hassan Adoum.
SEEKING REGIONAL STABILITY
Prior to the ceremony, Macron and regional leaders met with Mahamat Idriss Deby, 37, and members of the military council.
According to a source close to the French presidency, France and the G5 Sahel nations have pledged funding for a civilian-military transition. Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania, and Niger are among the G5 countries, all of which face Islamist militant attacks.
Masra reported on Facebook that he and other Chadians met with Niger’s President Mohamed Bazoum and Mauritanian President Mohamed Ould Ghazouani.
He said the Chadians proposed that the transitional government be modeled after the one in Mali, which was created after a military coup last August. The president would be a civilian and the vice president would be nominated by Deby and responsible for security and defense issues.
An egalitarian government formed as a result of multi-party talks will also have a prime minister at its helm.
The African Union’s Peace and Security Council urged Chadian authorities in a statement to “to respect the constitutional mandate and order, and to expeditiously embark on a process of restoration of constitutional order and handing over of political power to the civilian authorities.”
In Chad, opposition parties, trade unions, and civil society groups have all condemned the military coup, and an army general said this week that many officers oppose the reform proposal.
ON THE FRONTLINE
The rebels of the Front for Change and Concord in Chad (FACT) said warplanes bombed their center on Wednesday night in an attempt to kill their leader, Mahamat Mahadi Ali. They accused France of supporting the raid with aerial surveillance.
The group did not say where the command post was or whether there were any injuries or injury.
The French army said it had not conducted any airstrikes in Chad this week. The army of Chad did not respond to a request for comment.
France has about 5,100 troops stationed in the country, with its main base in N’Djamena. The United States has military troops stationed there as well.