Chad’s President Idriss Deby Itno, a former army officer and trained pilot, who ruled the central African nation for more than three decades, died Tuesday (April 20), at the age of 68, of wounds suffered on the battlefield in the north of the country, during a fight against rebels, the armed forces announced on national television and radio.
The stunning announcement came just a day after Deby was declared the winner of the April 11 presidential election, paving the way for him to stay in power for six more years. Provisional results released on Monday (April 19) showed Deby had taken 79.3 percent of the vote.
The exact circumstances of Deby’s death were not immediately clear. An army general told Reuters that 300 rebels were killed and 150 were captured. Five government soldiers were killed and 36 were injured, he said. The figures could not immediately be verified.
However, some foreign observers have questioned how a head of state could have been killed, saying the death casts doubt on his protective guard.
Condolences poured in from political leaders. The White House offered “sincere condolences” to Chadians.
“France lost a brave friend,” French President Emmanuel Macron’s office said in a statement. “It expresses its strong attachment to Chad’s stability and territorial integrity,” it continued.
“The death of the Marshal of Chad, President Idriss Deby Itno, is sad news,” Senegal’s President Macky Sall said in a statement on Twitter. “I salute his memory and pay tribute to his contribution to the stabilization of the Sahel. May his soul rest in peace.”
The Sahel region is located in the western and north-central region of Africa. It extends from Senegal in the west to Sudan in the east.
Chad’s government and parliament have been dissolved. An 18-month transitional council will be led by Deby’s 37-year-old son, Mahamat Idriss Deby Itno, who is best known as a top commander of the Chadian forces aiding a U.N. peacekeeping mission in northern Mali. “Free and democratic” elections will be held once the transition period is over, the army said in its statement.
A curfew has been imposed and the borders of the country have been shut in the wake of the president’s death.
Experts are fearing Deby’s death could mean tremendous uncertainty for oil-producing Chad going forward. The country straddles the Sahara and is surrounded by some of the continent’s most protracted conflicts.
With reporting by Al Jazeera, AFP and Reuters