Chadian President Idriss Déby Itno, who has been in power for 30 years, died on Tuesday from injuries sustained while commanding his army in fighting against rebels in the north over the weekend, a spokesman announced on state television.
“The president of the republic, head of state, supreme head of the army, Idriss Déby Itno, has just breathed his last 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 the Marshal of Chad,” announced the army spokesman, General Azem Bermandoa Agouna, in a statement read on TV Chad.
Mr Déby, 68, a career military officer who seized power in 1990 in a coup, was promoted to the rank of Field Marshal last August.
He was re-elected for a six-year term with 79.32% of the votes cast, according to provisional results announced on Monday evening by the national electoral body.
Ministers and senior officers said on Monday that the head of state had visited the frontline between his army and a column of rebels who had launched an offensive from rear bases in Libya on election day, April 11.
The rebels, whom the army claimed to have defeated in the fighting, had said in a statement that Mr Déby had been wounded, but the information had not been confirmed by official sources.
Deby, 68, had ruled Chad for three decades but was a key ally in the West’s anti-jihadist campaign in the troubled Sahel region.
The army said a military council led by the late president’s 37-year-old son Mahamat Idriss Deby Itno, a four-star general, would replace him.
On Monday, the army had claimed a “great victory” in its battle against the rebels from neighbouring Libya, saying it had killed 300 fighters, with the loss of five soldiers in its own ranks during eight days of combat.
Deby would have been one of the longest-serving leaders in the world, after provisional results showed him winning the April 11 election.
He was a herder’s son from the Zaghawa ethnic group who took the classic path to power through the army and relished the military culture.
His latest election victory — with almost 80 percent of the vote — had never been in doubt, with a divided opposition, boycott calls, and a campaign in which demonstrations were banned or dispersed.
Deby had campaigned on a promise of bringing peace and security to the region, but his pledges were undermined by the rebel incursion.
The government had sought on Monday to assure concerned residents that the offensive was over.
The tanks were later withdrawn apart from a perimeter around the president’s office, which is under heavy security during normal times.
“The establishment of a security deployment in certain areas of the capital seems to have been misunderstood,” government spokesman Cherif Mahamat Zene had said on Twitter on Monday.
“There is no particular threat to fear.”
However, the US embassy in N’Djamena had on Saturday ordered non-essential personnel to leave the country, warning of possible violence in the capital. Britain also urged its nationals to leave.
France’s embassy said in an advisory to its nationals in Chad that the deployment was a precaution and there was no specific threat to the capital.
The rebel raid in the provinces of Tibesti and Kanem was carried out by the Front for Change and Concord in Chad (FACT), based in Libya.
The group has a non-aggression pact with Khalifa Haftar, a military strongman who controls much of Libya’s east.
FACT, a group mainly made up of the Saharan Goran people, said in a statement Sunday that it had “liberated” the Kanem region. Such claims in remote desert combat zones are difficult to verify.
The Tibesti mountains near the Libyan frontier frequently see fighting between rebels and the army, as well as in the northeast bordering Sudan. French air strikes were needed to stop an incursion there in February 2019.
In February 2008, a rebel assault reached the gates of the presidential palace before being pushed back with French backing.