Rebels vow to take capital after Chadian president killed

FILE - In this Wednesday, Feb. 6, 2008 file photo, Chad's President Idriss Deby Itno, center-right, meets with French Defense Minister Herve Morin, center-left, in N'Djamena, Chad. Deby, who ruled the central African nation for more than three decades, was killed on the battlefield Tuesday, April 20, 2021 in a fight against rebels, the country's top military commander announced on national television and radio. (Pascal Guyot/Pool Photo via AP, File)
FILE - In this Wednesday, Feb. 6, 2008 file photo, Chad's President Idriss Deby Itno, center-right, meets with French Defense Minister Herve Morin, center-left, in N'Djamena, Chad. Deby, who ruled the central African nation for more than three decades, was killed on the battlefield Tuesday, April 20, 2021 in a fight against rebels, the country's top military commander announced on national television and radio. (Pascal Guyot/Pool Photo via AP, File)

Credit: PASCAL GUYOT

Credit: PASCAL GUYOT

A top military commander says that Chadian President Idriss Deby Itno has been killed on the battlefield in a fight against rebels

N'DJAMENA, Chad (AP) — Chad’s president of three decades died of wounds suffered during a visit to front-line troops battling a shadowy rebel group, the military announced Tuesday, as the insurgents vowed to take the capital in what could become a violent battle for control of the oil-rich Central African nation.

The military quickly named President Idriss Deby Itno's son as the country's interim leader, capping a series of stunning announcements that came just hours after the 68-year-old Deby had been declared winner of an election that would have given him another six years in power.

“Chad is not a monarchy. There can be no dynastic devolution of power in our country,” the rebels said in a statement late Tuesday, vowing to press their fight for the capital. “The forces of the Front for Change and Concord are heading toward N’Djaména at this very moment. With confidence, but above all with courage and determination.”

The circumstances of Deby's death remained murky and some observers immediately questioned the events leading up to Tuesday's announcement, raising the question of whether the military handing over power to Deby's son instead of following the constitutional provisions in place amounted to a coup. Others raised fears of violence in the days to come.

“There is a great deal of uncertainty around how events in Chad will unfold: Whether the army will stay loyal to Deby’s son and continue the effort to repel the advancing rebels?" said Cameron Hudson with the Africa Center at the Atlantic Council.

Chadians fed up after 30 years of Deby's rule could also align with the calls for change, he said.

“Either scenario presents a high risk of civilian casualties and a likelihood that fleeing civilians or soldiers could export Chad’s instability to neighboring states.”

Deby's 37-year-old son, Mahamat, is best known as a top commander of the Chadian forces aiding a U.N. peacekeeping mission in northern Mali. The military said Tuesday he now will head an 18-month transitional council following his father's death.

However, Chad's constitution calls for the National Assembly to step in when a president dies while in office.

The military called for calm, instituting a 6 p.m. curfew and closing the country's land and air borders as panic kept many inside their homes in the capital, N’Djamena.

“In the face of this worrying situation, the people of Chad must show their commitment to peace, to stability, and to national cohesion,” Gen. Azem Bermandoa Agouma said.

The circumstances of Deby’s death could not immediately be independently confirmed due to the remote location of the fighting.

The government has released few details of its efforts to put down the rebellion in northern Chad, though it did announce Saturday that it had “totally decimated” one rebel column of fighters.

The rebel group later put out a statement saying fierce battles had erupted Sunday and Monday. It released a list of five high-ranking military officials who it said were killed, and 10 others it said were wounded, including Chad's president.

The army only said Tuesday that Deby had fought heroically but was wounded in a battle. He was then taken to the capital where he died of unspecified wounds.

The United Nations has about 1,800 staffers in Chad and spokesperson Stephane Dujarric said in New York that the U.N. was “watching the situation hour by hour.”

Some residents of the capital said they feared there was more to the story of Deby’s demise.

“The rumors that are going around about the transitional council give me the impression that some information is false,” Thierry Djikoloum said. “They are already talking about dissolving parliament ... So for me, I’d say it was a coup d’etat. He was killed.”

Some foreign observers also questioned how a head of state could have been killed, saying it cast doubt on his protective guard. The Chadian military has only acknowledged five deaths in weekend fighting in which it said it killed 300 rebels.

“We still don’t have the whole story,” Laith Alkhouri, a global intelligence adviser, told The Associated Press. “It raises concerns regarding the security forces’ assessment of the clashes and their intelligence regarding the severity of the situation.”

Deby, former army commander-in-chief, was a major French ally in the fight against Islamic extremism in Africa, hosting the base for the French military’s Operation Barkhane and supplying critical troops to the peacekeeping effort in northern Mali.

French Defense Minister Florence Parly expressed her condolences to the Chadian people, in a news conference with her German counterpart in Paris.

“What’s central to us now is that a process of democratic transition can be implemented and the stability of Chad preserved,” she said.

“For the rest, she added, French authorities need “a bit more time” to analyze the situation.

Earlier, the French presidency called Deby “a courageous friend.”

Chad is losing “a great soldier and a president who worked non-stop for the security of the country and the stability of the region for three decades,” it said in a statement.

Deby first came to power in 1990 when his rebel forces overthrew then-President Hissene Habre, who was later convicted of human rights abuses at an international tribunal in Senegal.

Over the years Deby had survived numerous armed rebellions and managed to stay in power until this latest insurgency led by the Front for Change and Concord in Chad.

The rebels are believed to have armed and trained in neighboring Libya before crossing into northern Chad on April 11. Their arrival came on the same day that Chad’s president sought a sixth term in an election several top opposition candidates boycotted.

___

Larson reported from Dakar, Senegal. Associated Press writer Sam Mednick in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso; Cara Anna in Nairobi, Kenya; Sylvie Corbet in Paris and Jennifer Peltz at the United Nations contributed.

FILE - In this Monday, Jan.13, 2020 file photo, Chad's President Idriss Deby Itno arrives at the G5 Sahel summit in Pau, southwestern France. Chadian President Idriss Deby Itno, who ruled the central African nation for more than three decades, was killed on the battlefield Tuesday, April 20, 2021 in a fight against rebels, the country's top military commander announced on national television and radio. (Regis Duvignau/Pool Photo via AP, File)
FILE - In this Monday, Jan.13, 2020 file photo, Chad's President Idriss Deby Itno arrives at the G5 Sahel summit in Pau, southwestern France. Chadian President Idriss Deby Itno, who ruled the central African nation for more than three decades, was killed on the battlefield Tuesday, April 20, 2021 in a fight against rebels, the country's top military commander announced on national television and radio. (Regis Duvignau/Pool Photo via AP, File)

Credit: Regis Duvignau

Credit: Regis Duvignau

Mahamat Idriss Deby Itno, 37, the son of Chadian President Idriss Deby Itno, is seen during a military broadcast announcing the death of his father on state television Tuesday, April 20, 2021. Deby, who ruled the central African nation for more than three decades, was killed on the battlefield Tuesday, April 20, 2021 in a fight against rebels, the military announced on national television and radio. Onscreen writing in French reads "Security - In a moment a very important communique from the General Staff of the Military - Urgent". (Tele Tchad via AP)
Mahamat Idriss Deby Itno, 37, the son of Chadian President Idriss Deby Itno, is seen during a military broadcast announcing the death of his father on state television Tuesday, April 20, 2021. Deby, who ruled the central African nation for more than three decades, was killed on the battlefield Tuesday, April 20, 2021 in a fight against rebels, the military announced on national television and radio. Onscreen writing in French reads "Security - In a moment a very important communique from the General Staff of the Military - Urgent". (Tele Tchad via AP)

Credit: Uncredited

Credit: Uncredited

In this Friday, April 9, 2021 image made from video, Chadian President Idriss Deby Itno, center, attends his final campaign rally for the recent elections in N'Djamena, Chad. Deby, who ruled the central African nation for more than three decades, was killed on the battlefield Tuesday, April 20, 2021 in a fight against rebels, the military announced on national television and radio. (AP Photo)
In this Friday, April 9, 2021 image made from video, Chadian President Idriss Deby Itno, center, attends his final campaign rally for the recent elections in N'Djamena, Chad. Deby, who ruled the central African nation for more than three decades, was killed on the battlefield Tuesday, April 20, 2021 in a fight against rebels, the military announced on national television and radio. (AP Photo)

Credit: Uncredited

Credit: Uncredited

In this Sunday, April 11, 2021 image made from video, Chadian President Idriss Deby Itno, center, casts his vote in the recent elections in N'Djamena, Chad. Deby, who ruled the central African nation for more than three decades, was killed on the battlefield Tuesday, April 20, 2021 in a fight against rebels, the military announced on national television and radio. (AP Photo)
In this Sunday, April 11, 2021 image made from video, Chadian President Idriss Deby Itno, center, casts his vote in the recent elections in N'Djamena, Chad. Deby, who ruled the central African nation for more than three decades, was killed on the battlefield Tuesday, April 20, 2021 in a fight against rebels, the military announced on national television and radio. (AP Photo)

Credit: Uncredited

Credit: Uncredited

Chad army spokesman General Azem Bermandoa Agouna, center, announces the death of Chadian President Idriss Deby Itno, on state television Tuesday, April 20, 2021. Deby, who ruled the central African nation for more than three decades, was killed on the battlefield Tuesday, April 20, 2021 in a fight against rebels, the military announced on national television and radio. Onscreen writing in French reads "General Azem Bermandoa Agouna - Spokesman of the Transitional Military Council. Declaration of the Transitional Military Council. Security - In a moment a very important communique from the General Staff of the Military - Urgent". (Tele Tchad via AP)
Chad army spokesman General Azem Bermandoa Agouna, center, announces the death of Chadian President Idriss Deby Itno, on state television Tuesday, April 20, 2021. Deby, who ruled the central African nation for more than three decades, was killed on the battlefield Tuesday, April 20, 2021 in a fight against rebels, the military announced on national television and radio. Onscreen writing in French reads "General Azem Bermandoa Agouna - Spokesman of the Transitional Military Council. Declaration of the Transitional Military Council. Security - In a moment a very important communique from the General Staff of the Military - Urgent". (Tele Tchad via AP)

Credit: Uncredited

Credit: Uncredited

FILE - In this Wednesday, Feb. 6, 2008 file photo, Chadian President Idriss Deby Itno addresses a news conference at the Presidential Palace in N'Djamena, Chad. Deby, who ruled the central African nation for more than three decades, was killed on the battlefield Tuesday, April 20, 2021 in a fight against rebels, the military announced on national television and radio. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay, File)
FILE - In this Wednesday, Feb. 6, 2008 file photo, Chadian President Idriss Deby Itno addresses a news conference at the Presidential Palace in N'Djamena, Chad. Deby, who ruled the central African nation for more than three decades, was killed on the battlefield Tuesday, April 20, 2021 in a fight against rebels, the military announced on national television and radio. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay, File)

Credit: Jerome Delay

Credit: Jerome Delay

FILE - In this Tuesday, May 2, 2006 file photo, boys walk past posters of Chadian President Idriss Deby Itno ahead of the presidential election in the capital, N'djamena, Chad. Deby, who ruled the central African nation for more than three decades, was killed on the battlefield Tuesday, April 20, 2021 in a fight against rebels, the military announced on national television and radio. (AP Photo/Karel Prinsloo, File)
FILE - In this Tuesday, May 2, 2006 file photo, boys walk past posters of Chadian President Idriss Deby Itno ahead of the presidential election in the capital, N'djamena, Chad. Deby, who ruled the central African nation for more than three decades, was killed on the battlefield Tuesday, April 20, 2021 in a fight against rebels, the military announced on national television and radio. (AP Photo/Karel Prinsloo, File)

Credit: Karel Prinsloo

Credit: Karel Prinsloo

FILE - In this Wednesday, April 20, 2016 file photo, Chadian President Idriss Deby Itno meets with U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power at the presidential palace in N'Djamena, Chad, Wednesday, April 20, 2016. Chadian President Idriss Deby Itno, who ruled the central African nation for more than three decades, was killed on the battlefield Tuesday, April 20, 2021 in a fight against rebels, the country's top military commander announced on national television and radio. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, File)
FILE - In this Wednesday, April 20, 2016 file photo, Chadian President Idriss Deby Itno meets with U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power at the presidential palace in N'Djamena, Chad, Wednesday, April 20, 2016. Chadian President Idriss Deby Itno, who ruled the central African nation for more than three decades, was killed on the battlefield Tuesday, April 20, 2021 in a fight against rebels, the country's top military commander announced on national television and radio. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, File)

Credit: Andrew Harnik

Credit: Andrew Harnik

FILE - In this Wednesday, Dec. 5, 2012 file photo, Chadian President Idriss Deby Itno answers questions from media after his meeting with French President Francois Hollande at the Elysee Palace, in Paris, France. Deby, who ruled the central African nation for more than three decades, was killed on the battlefield Tuesday, April 20, 2021 in a fight against rebels, the military announced on national television and radio. (AP Photo/Laurent Cipriani, File)
FILE - In this Wednesday, Dec. 5, 2012 file photo, Chadian President Idriss Deby Itno answers questions from media after his meeting with French President Francois Hollande at the Elysee Palace, in Paris, France. Deby, who ruled the central African nation for more than three decades, was killed on the battlefield Tuesday, April 20, 2021 in a fight against rebels, the military announced on national television and radio. (AP Photo/Laurent Cipriani, File)

Credit: Laurent Cipriani

Credit: Laurent Cipriani

FILE - In this Friday, May 29, 2015 file photo, Chadian President Idriss Deby Itno arrives for the inauguration of the new Nigerian President, Muhammadu Buhari, at the eagle square in Abuja, Nigeria. Deby, who ruled the central African nation for more than three decades, was killed on the battlefield Tuesday, April 20, 2021 in a fight against rebels, the military announced on national television and radio. (AP Photo/Sunday Alamba, File)
FILE - In this Friday, May 29, 2015 file photo, Chadian President Idriss Deby Itno arrives for the inauguration of the new Nigerian President, Muhammadu Buhari, at the eagle square in Abuja, Nigeria. Deby, who ruled the central African nation for more than three decades, was killed on the battlefield Tuesday, April 20, 2021 in a fight against rebels, the military announced on national television and radio. (AP Photo/Sunday Alamba, File)

Credit: Sunday Alamba

Credit: Sunday Alamba

FILE - In this Monday, Sept. 23, 2019 file photo, Chadian President Idriss Deby Itno addresses the Climate Action Summit at the United Nations General Assembly, at U.N. headquarters. Deby, who ruled the central African nation for more than three decades, was killed on the battlefield Tuesday, April 20, 2021 in a fight against rebels, the military announced on national television and radio. (AP Photo/Jason DeCrow, File)
FILE - In this Monday, Sept. 23, 2019 file photo, Chadian President Idriss Deby Itno addresses the Climate Action Summit at the United Nations General Assembly, at U.N. headquarters. Deby, who ruled the central African nation for more than three decades, was killed on the battlefield Tuesday, April 20, 2021 in a fight against rebels, the military announced on national television and radio. (AP Photo/Jason DeCrow, File)

Credit: Jason DeCrow

Credit: Jason DeCrow

FILE - In this Wednesday, April 20, 2016 file photo, Chadian President Idriss Deby Itno, center, answers questions from members of the media as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power, left, listens at the presidential palace in N'Djamena, Chad. Deby, who ruled the central African nation for more than three decades, was killed on the battlefield Tuesday, April 20, 2021 in a fight against rebels, the military announced on national television and radio. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, File)
FILE - In this Wednesday, April 20, 2016 file photo, Chadian President Idriss Deby Itno, center, answers questions from members of the media as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power, left, listens at the presidential palace in N'Djamena, Chad. Deby, who ruled the central African nation for more than three decades, was killed on the battlefield Tuesday, April 20, 2021 in a fight against rebels, the military announced on national television and radio. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, File)

Credit: Andrew Harnik

Credit: Andrew Harnik

FILE - In this Tuesday, April 18, 2006 file photo, Chadian soldiers stand next to a poster of President Idriss Deby Itno as the President addresses a news conference in the capital N'Djamena, Chad. Deby, who ruled the central African nation for more than three decades, was killed on the battlefield Tuesday, April 20, 2021 in a fight against rebels, the military announced on national television and radio. (AP Photo/Karel Prinsloo, File)
FILE - In this Tuesday, April 18, 2006 file photo, Chadian soldiers stand next to a poster of President Idriss Deby Itno as the President addresses a news conference in the capital N'Djamena, Chad. Deby, who ruled the central African nation for more than three decades, was killed on the battlefield Tuesday, April 20, 2021 in a fight against rebels, the military announced on national television and radio. (AP Photo/Karel Prinsloo, File)

Credit: Karel Prinsloo

Credit: Karel Prinsloo

FILE - In this Thursday, March. 13, 2008 file photo, Chadian President Idriss Deby Itno, right, shakes hands with Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir, left, after signing a non-aggression pact in Dakar, Senegal. Deby, who ruled the central African nation for more than three decades, was killed on the battlefield Tuesday, April 20, 2021 in a fight against rebels, the military announced on national television and radio. (AP Photo/Olivier Asselin, File)
FILE - In this Thursday, March. 13, 2008 file photo, Chadian President Idriss Deby Itno, right, shakes hands with Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir, left, after signing a non-aggression pact in Dakar, Senegal. Deby, who ruled the central African nation for more than three decades, was killed on the battlefield Tuesday, April 20, 2021 in a fight against rebels, the military announced on national television and radio. (AP Photo/Olivier Asselin, File)

Credit: Olivier Asselin

Credit: Olivier Asselin

FILE - In this Tuesday, Sept. 20, 2016 file photo, Chadian President Idriss Deby Itno addresses the 71st session of the United Nations General Assembly, at U.N. headquarters. Deby, who ruled the central African nation for more than three decades, was killed on the battlefield Tuesday, April 20, 2021 in a fight against rebels, the military announced on national television and radio. (AP Photo/Richard Drew, File)
FILE - In this Tuesday, Sept. 20, 2016 file photo, Chadian President Idriss Deby Itno addresses the 71st session of the United Nations General Assembly, at U.N. headquarters. Deby, who ruled the central African nation for more than three decades, was killed on the battlefield Tuesday, April 20, 2021 in a fight against rebels, the military announced on national television and radio. (AP Photo/Richard Drew, File)

Credit: Richard Drew

Credit: Richard Drew

FILE - In this Monday, Aug. 28, 2017 file photo, Chadian President Idriss Deby Itno, left, poses with France's President Emmanuel Macron, right, prior to their meeting at the Elysee Palace, in Paris, France. Deby, who ruled the central African nation for more than three decades, was killed on the battlefield Tuesday, April 20, 2021 in a fight against rebels, the military announced on national television and radio. (AP Photo/Francois Mori, File)
FILE - In this Monday, Aug. 28, 2017 file photo, Chadian President Idriss Deby Itno, left, poses with France's President Emmanuel Macron, right, prior to their meeting at the Elysee Palace, in Paris, France. Deby, who ruled the central African nation for more than three decades, was killed on the battlefield Tuesday, April 20, 2021 in a fight against rebels, the military announced on national television and radio. (AP Photo/Francois Mori, File)

Credit: Francois Mori

Credit: Francois Mori

FILE - In this Tuesday, June 30, 2020 file photo, Chadian President Idriss Deby Itno arrives for a group photograph during the G5 Sahel summit, in Nouakchott, Mauritania. Deby, who ruled the central African nation for more than three decades, was killed on the battlefield Tuesday, April 20, 2021 in a fight against rebels, the country's top military commander announced on national television and radio. (Ludovic Marin/Pool Photo via AP, File)
FILE - In this Tuesday, June 30, 2020 file photo, Chadian President Idriss Deby Itno arrives for a group photograph during the G5 Sahel summit, in Nouakchott, Mauritania. Deby, who ruled the central African nation for more than three decades, was killed on the battlefield Tuesday, April 20, 2021 in a fight against rebels, the country's top military commander announced on national television and radio. (Ludovic Marin/Pool Photo via AP, File)

Credit: Ludovic Marin

Credit: Ludovic Marin

FILE - In this Monday, Sept. 3, 2018 file photo, Chadian President Idriss Deby Itno attends the high-level dialogue between Chinese and African leaders and business and industry representatives at the opening ceremony of the 6th China-Africa Entrepreneur Conference at the Beijing National Convention Center in Beijing, China. Deby, who ruled the central African nation for more than three decades, was killed on the battlefield Tuesday, April 20, 2021 in a fight against rebels, the military announced on national television and radio. (Lintao Zhang/Pool Photo via AP, File)
FILE - In this Monday, Sept. 3, 2018 file photo, Chadian President Idriss Deby Itno attends the high-level dialogue between Chinese and African leaders and business and industry representatives at the opening ceremony of the 6th China-Africa Entrepreneur Conference at the Beijing National Convention Center in Beijing, China. Deby, who ruled the central African nation for more than three decades, was killed on the battlefield Tuesday, April 20, 2021 in a fight against rebels, the military announced on national television and radio. (Lintao Zhang/Pool Photo via AP, File)

Credit: Lintao Zhang

Credit: Lintao Zhang

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