\The African country of Chad announced Tuesday that its president of more than 30 years died visiting troops fighting a rebel group.
Idriss Deby Itno came to power in 1990 when he led a rebellion against then-President Hissène Habré.
Deby visited troops on Monday, the same day he was declared the winner of an election that would have kept him in power for a sixth term. The 68-year-old leader could have stayed in power until 2033 after a new constitution was passed in 2018.
The Chadian military said the president joined the fight against rebels who had marched toward Chad’s capital, N’Djamena. The rebel group is known as Front for Change and Concord in Chad. The conflict concerns many Western nations, including France and the United States.
Details of his death could not be independently confirmed. Some Africa experts wonder if Deby’s death was the result of a coup.
They said if the country’s leader dies in office, the remainder of his term should be completed by a member of the country’s parliament.
Instead, the military announced that Deby’s 37-year-old son, Mahamat Kaka, is now acting as president. He will lead an 18-month transitional council.
Chad is a French ally in Africa. France’s president Emmanuel Macron released a statement on Tuesday calling Deby “a brave friend,” and asked for a quick return to civilian leadership. There are about 5,000 French soldiers based in Chad.
They are involved in security measures against Islamist militants including Boko Haram and others linked to the Islamic State terror group.
Nathaniel Powell studies the history of France’s military in Chad.
He said the announcement of Mahamat as the country’s new leader shows “continuity” and may serve to stop any military officers from thinking they can take over the country. He said it also shows France and the United States that Chad remains an ally.
Powell noted there remains strong opposition to Deby’s rule within the country’s military and among Chadian people. Deby said he won 79 percent of the vote in the recent election. But many people in the opposing party chose not to vote.
The Reuters news agency spoke with a diplomat in the area who was not identified. He said Deby “loved” visiting his troops while fighting was going on. But, he said, it is problematic that a member of Chad’s parliament did not take over the country.
“That in itself is a coup,” he said.
The military has ordered a nighttime curfew and parliament has been dismissed. The spokesman who announced Deby’s death said “all measures have been taken to guarantee peace, security and the republican order.”
I’m Dan Friedell.
Dan Friedell adapted this story for Learning English based on reporting by the Associated Press and Reuters. Mario Ritter, Jr. was the editor.
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Words in This Story
coup –n. a sudden attempt by a small group of people to take over the government usually through violence
transition –n. a change from one state or condition to another
council –n. a group of people who are chosen to make rules, laws, or decisions about something