Chad’s President Idriss Deby has died while visiting troops on the front line of a fight against northern rebels, an army spokesman said on Tuesday, the day after Deby was declared the winner of a sixth term in office.
Army spokesman Azem Bermendao Agouna announced his death in a broadcast on state television, surrounded by a group of military officers he referred to as the National Council of Transition.
“A call to dialogue and peace is launched to all Chadians in the country and abroad in order to continue to build Chad together,” he said.
“The National Council of Transition reassures the Chadian people that all measures have been taken to guarantee peace, security and the republican order.”
Deby’s son, Mahamat Kaka, was named interim president by a transitional council of military officers.
Deby, 68, came to power in a rebellion in 1990 and was one of Africa’s longest-serving leaders.
His opponents accused him of repressive rule, pushed through a new constitution in 2018 that would have allowed him to stay in power until 2033 – even as it re-instated term limits.
He took the title of “Marshal” last year and said before last week’s election: “I know in advance that I will win, as I have done for the last 30 years.”
The election results announced on Monday, Deby was credited with 79% of the vote, handing him a sixth term in office. Several leading opposition figures boycotted the poll.
His campaign said on Monday that he was headed to the front lines to join troops battling “terrorists”.
He was expected to give a victory speech to supporters, but his campaign director, Mahamat Zen Bada, said he had instead gone to visit Chadian soldiers on the front lines.
“The candidate would have liked to have been here to celebrate … but right now, he is alongside our valiant defence and security forces to fight the terrorists threatening our territory,” Zen Bada told reporters.
The rebel group Front for Change and Concord in Chad (FACT), which is based across the northern frontier with Libya, attacked a border post on election day and then advanced hundreds of kilometres (miles) south.
But it suffered a setback over the weekend. Chad’s military spokesman, Azem Bermendao Agouna, said that army troops killed more than 300 insurgents and captured 150 on Saturday in Kanem province, around 300 km (185 miles) from N’Djamena.
Five government soldiers were killed and 36 were injured, he said.
FACT said in a statement that an “error” on Saturday had “slowed by a little bit the victorious march … to N’Djamena” but that the rebels had routed the army in battle on Sunday and Monday, killing, wounding and capturing hundreds of soldiers.
Chadian state television on Sunday showed images of a crowd of soldiers cheering next to what state television said were dozens of captured rebel fighters, who sat with their hands tied behind their backs.
The unrest has raised alarm bells among Western countries, which had seen Deby as an ally in the fight against Islamist extremist groups, including Boko Haram in the Lake Chad Basin and groups linked to al Qaeda and Islamic State in the Sahel.
Deby, who had long faced insurgencies in the north, was also dealing with mounting public discontent over his management of Chad’s oil wealth and crackdowns on opponents.
The United States ordered all of its non-essential embassy staff to leave the country on Saturday. The British government had urged its citizens to leave the previous day.
His death is a blow to France, which had based its Sahel counter-terrorism operations in the Chadian capital, N’Djamena.
Chad had announced in February the deployment of 1,200 troops to complement 5,100 French soldiers in the area. France, the former colonial power, has yet to react officially.