Chadian security forces have opened fire on anti-government demonstrators in the country’s two largest cities killing dozens of people.
Chadian government spokesman Aziz Mahamat Saleh said 30 people were dead in the capital, N’Djamena. Organisers of the march, however, placed the toll higher, at 40 on Thursday.
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A further 32 protesters were killed in Chad’s second-largest city, Moundou, according to an official in the city’s morgue. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter, said more than 60 people were wounded.
At the main hospital in N’Djamena, overwhelmed doctors tended to scores of people with gunshot wounds.
Police earlier fired tear gas at the crowds but the demonstrators continued advancing and their numbers grew. It was then that security forces opened fire, leaving protesters struggling to gather the dead from the scene.
Among those killed was a Chadian journalist, Narcisse Oredje, who worked for CEFOD radio and was struck by a bullet.
Hundreds of people took to the streets to mark the date when the military initially promised to hand over power – a period that has been extended for another two years.
The country has been rocked by a political crisis since longtime President Idriss Deby was killed on the battlefield in April 2021 while visiting front-line troops.
Mahamat Idriss Deby, his 38-year-old son, was then installed by the military as interim president. He had initially promised not to take part in elections that would follow an 18-month transition to civilian rule but as the deadline neared, a nationwide forum staged by Deby reset the clock.
On October 1, it approved a new “maximum” 24-month timeframe for holding elections. It also named Deby “transitional president” and declared he could be a candidate in the poll. Deby was sworn in on October 10 and later appointed a so-called government of national union headed by Prime Minister Saleh Kebzabo.
Political analyst Ovigwe Eguegu told Al Jazeera that while many people desperately wanted a return to civilian rule they feared the military would continue to hang onto power.
“There’s real concern about the military extending its rule and continuing these violations of human rights,” Eguegu said.
The headquarters of Kebzabo’s UNDR party was also attacked by demonstrators “and partially burned down”, UNDR Vice President Celestin Topona said.
There were also reports of barricades being set up in several districts and tyres being set alight in the main avenues to block traffic.
Security forces have cracked down on several civil society and opposition-led protests denouncing the military takeover and France’s backing of the transitional government, at times killing people in the crackdown.
In May, police fired tear gas and used water cannon to disperse anti-French protests that saw the destruction of French-linked businesses.
France, which colonised Chad in the past, condemned Friday’s violence, which “notably [featured] the use of lethal weapons against demonstrators”.
“France is not playing any part in these events, which lie strictly in Chad’s domestic political domain,” the foreign ministry said. “False information about France’s purported involvement is baseless.”