Thousands attend funeral of Chad's Deby, Macron pledges French support

Edward McAllister and Madjiasra Nako
·4-min read

By Edward McAllister and Madjiasra Nako

N'DJAMENA (Reuters) -Thousands of people attended the funeral of Chad's slain leader Idriss Deby on Friday, with French President Emmanuel Macron leading tributes to the long-ruling strongman whose death in a battle with rebels has thrown the country into crisis.

Macron said France would not let anyone threaten the stability of its former colony - a reflection of worries that more turmoil will hamper the fight against Islamist militants across the Sahel region.

France also supported a transition to democracy in Chad, Macron said in his speech to mourners, after a military council took power following Deby's death. A source at the French presidency said France and regional countries were pushing for a mixed civilian-military transitional government.

Opposition leaders, who had been stepping up their activity prior to Idriss Deby's death, have condemned the takeover as a coup and called for civil disobedience.

Deby, a lynchpin in Western security strategy, was killed on Monday in a battle against a rebel army led by dissident army officers who are not linked to jihadists.

The rebels said on Friday their command centre 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.

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.

PEACEFUL CHAD?

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, one of Idriss Deby's most prominent opponents, Succes 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 honouring 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

Before the ceremony, Macron and regional leaders met with Mahamat Idriss Deby and members of the military council.

The 37-year-old Deby, a general, has dissolved parliament, taken over as president and armed forces commander, and promised to hold an election in 18 months time.

The French presidency source said France and the G5 Sahel nations had offered support for a civilian-military transition in Chad for the good of regional stability. The G5 are Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania, and Niger - all beset by Islamist militant threats.

But opposition leaders have denounced the military takeover, and an army general said this week that many army officers are opposed to the transition plan. Labour unions have also called a worker's strike.

ON THE FRONTLINE

The rebels of the Front for Change and Concord in Chad (FACT) said warplanes bombed their centre 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 specify where the command post was located or give details of any casualties or damage.

The French army said it had not carried out any air strikes this week in Chad, and Chad's army did not respond to a request for comment.

France has about 5,100 troops based across the region and has its main base in N'Djamena. The United States also has military personnel there.

(Reporting by Edward McAllister and Madjiasra NakoAdditional reporting by John Irish and Tangi Salaun in ParisWriting by Hereward Holland, Angus MacSwan and Aaron Ross Editing by Frances Kerry)