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Security Forces Open Fire on Protesters in Chad, Killing at Least 50

Demonstrators had taken to the streets, demanding that the ruling military junta stick to its promises to hold elections.

Security forces in the Central African country shot and killed dozens of people protesting the decision by the junta to tear up its promises of a transition to democracy and extend its stay in power by at least two years. [Associated Press]

Security forces in the Central African country of Chad shot and killed dozens of people during protests that came in response to a decision by the junta to tear up its promises of a transition to democracy and extend its stay in power by at least two years.

Prime Minister Saleh Kebzabo put the death toll at 50 on Thursday, but members of the opposition said the figure was closer to 70, and with hundreds more wounded, the toll was expected to rise.

The violent suppression of protests in the capital, Ndjamena, and the country’s second-largest city, Moundou, came amid a trend toward military rule in the region, where coups are a regular occurrence across the wide belt of Africa known as the Sahel and their plotters tend to announce long transitions.

Footage shared on social media showed hundreds of protesters — mostly young men — whooping, chanting and blowing whistles as they ran through the streets of Ndjamena to protest the Oct. 1 announcement that elections would be delayed.

By sundown, dozens of them were dead. In a photograph released by the news agency Agence France-Presse, a group of men stood solemnly around the body of one demonstrator, which lay on a concrete-covered drain alongside a paved road, covered with the red, yellow and blue Chadian flag. A lone pink flip-flop protruded from under its silky material.

By Friday morning, central Ndjamena was calm, its main intersections guarded by security forces, although there were reports of continuing clashes in some districts south of the capital, where many of the demonstrations were concentrated. There was a heavy military presence in those neighborhoods, with soldiers preventing residents from moving around, or even going to work.

A body was covered by a Chadian flag after the protests in Ndjamena. [Agence France-Presse | Getty Images]

Mr. Kebzabo was recently appointed prime minister after a national dialogue that brought together rebel groups, the military, civil society members, opposition parties and trade unions to talk about Chad’s future. He said the protesters were carrying guns and he described them as rebels — which the opposition denies.

Reuters reported that a Chadian journalist who formerly worked for the news agency was among those killed, citing his brother.

Protesters vowed not to back down.

“We want change, and we’ll keep demonstrating until we get change,” said Mathieu Djerabe, 23, a liquor trader who took part in the demonstration.

Another protester, a 29-year-old information technology specialist who identified himself only as Moukhar B. for fear of his safety, said he took part to try to change the “corrupt system that has been an obstacle to development for 30 years.”

Moussa Faki Mahamat, the chair of the African Union Commission and a former prime minister of Chad, called for the parties involved to respect human life, and he condemned the repression. So did Amnesty International, which said a child was among those killed.

The protests were doomed from the start. The government portrayed them as an attempted armed insurrection even before they took place, and in their aftermath, Mr. Kebzabo banned all the political parties that had been involved and announced a nighttime curfew.

The past few years have been a time of political upheaval in parts of West and Central Africa, where military takeovers are increasingly common and repression by security forces is claiming more and more lives.

In Chad, Mahamat Idriss Déby, the current president, took power when his predecessor, who was also his father, Idriss Déby, died on the battlefield in clashes last year with rebels who had spent years amassing war experience in Libya, according to his generals.

The elder Déby ruled the country with an iron fist for three decades. His son, who was 37 at the time, was hastily installed as president without any pretense of a democratic transition.

Injured protesters being treated after suffering injuries during the protests in Ndjamena. [Agence France-Presse | Getty Images]

To the west, Mali has experienced two coups, in 2020 and 2021, and since then, its military rulers have extended their time in power. After promising to hold elections last February, their date was moved to 2026 and then shifted back to 2024 after the regional bloc known as the Economic Community of West African States imposed sanctions.

Further south, in Guinea, when Col. Mamady Doumbouya, the coup plotter-turned-military leader, announced a transition period earlier this year of over three years, opposition leaders condemnedthe move as “a threat to peace.”

Burkina Faso has experienced two coups in an eight-month period this year, and though its new ruler, Ibrahim Traoré, agreed to his predecessor’s condition that he stick to the agreed timetable for a transition to democracy, but analysts said there are no guarantees that promise will be kept.

The Ndjamena protests and killings came on the two-year anniversary of a massacre of young protesters in Chad’s southwestern neighbor, Nigeria. There, security forces opened fire on demonstrators opposed to police brutality. Today, their families are still awaiting justice, while dozens of protesters still languish in jail.

Chad, a country twice the size of France but with only a small fraction of its population, nearly 18 million people, is linguistically and ethnically diverse, with around 120 indigenous languages as well as its two official ones, Arabic and French.

In the 1980s, it was ruled by Hissène Habré, a coup leader-turned-president who was later found guilty of crimes against humanity, torture and sex crimes in a landmark case in Senegal. He too was overthrown, in 1990 — by Idriss Déby, who ruled until his death 18 months ago.

And then came the younger Déby.

“The president did not keep his promise to hand over power to civilians,” a single mother in her early 30s, who identified herself only as Zita B. for fear of her safety, said in a Ndjamena patisserie on Friday. “No change whatsoever.”


(c) 2022, New York Times

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