Dozens of Chadian policemen are patrolling the streets of the capital N’Djamena after using tear gas to disperse students protesting against the presence of French troops in the West African state.
Witnesses said security was beefed up on Monday after thousands of Chadians took to the streets across three towns in protest for the same reason, on Saturday.
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People chanted “Chad hurra, France barra”, an Arabic phrase meaning “Chad is Free and France is out” during the protests at the weekend, which were organised by the Wikit Tamma movement, a civil society initiative founded last year.
Seven petrol stations belonging to French oil major Total were attacked and a dozen policemen injured in the unrest which broke out on Saturday in the capital N’Djamena, an anonymous police official told AFP.
They also tried to reach the presidential palace but were dispersed by the police with tear gas.
Chadian protesters vandalised a French-run Total petrol station in N’Djamena during demonstrations against the military presence of France, a former colonial power, which they accuse of backing the ruling military junta that seized power after the death of President Deby in 2021 pic.twitter.com/ysKvPhM1NJ
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In recent years, resentment against the presence of France in its former African colonies has been on the increase, especially in Mali, Niger, Burkina Faso, and now Chad where thousands of French troops have been deployed to fight armed groups linked to the Islamic State and al-Qaeda.
Last year, French troops on their way to central Mali from Burkina Faso, killed two such protesters in a Nigerien town.
This February, President Emmanuel Macron announced the withdrawal of French troops from Mali as relations broke down between Paris and Bamako.
Former Chadian president Deby’s regime lasted three decades despite multiple coup attempts and efforts of rebels trying to undermine N’djamena, which had military support and funding from Paris.
In 2008 when rebels backed by Sudan managed to get close to the presidential palace, the French army intervened and chased them out of the country. Three years ago, France again offered military support on land and in the air against another rebel group with a Libya base, on their way to the capital N’Djamena.
And last April when Deby died on the battlefield in Nouku town, north of the capital, the head of the parliament should have become president according to the Chadian constitution.
But France supported the installation of the deceased’s 38-year-old son Mohamat Deby, also known as Kaka as head of the interim government. It was a move that many in the opposition objected to, including the Wakit Tamma movement.
“Paris’s unconditional support to the Deby regime for 30 years, and then for the military and dynastic succession that seems to be gaining track since Deby’s death largely contributed to that feeling,” Jerome Tubiana, a researcher on Chad and Sudan, and formerly with the International Crisis Group, told Al Jazeera.
“So did the fact that in other countries, including Sudan or Mali, France didn’t necessarily support military coups,” he added. “Those double standards [have] arguably increased Chadian bitterness.”
There has also been opposition to the government in Doha the Qatari capital where peace talks are ongoing between different rebel groups including the Front for Change and Concord in Chad (FACT) movement and the Chadian government.
Some groups have withdrawn from the discourse and a number of observers are pessimistic that those talks can lead to any meaningful outcome or peace across Chad.
All of that has crystallised into dissent back in Chad – and a manifestation this weekend.
In Abeche City near the Sudanese border, the protesters destroyed the statue of a French soldier there.
“We don’t know when exactly our resistance will be fruitful”, Ousman Bachir, a 28-year-old student of media at the University of King Faisal in N’Djamena told Al Jazeera by phone. “That’s not our concern at the moment, but what we know is to protest against the French intervention in our country, militarily and politically.”
Max Loalngar, the founder of Wakit Tamma who was summoned by the police told Al Jazeera that it organised the protest to end the French presence in their country.
The group said a few other protest organisers were arrested from their homes, among them former minister Hissien Massar Hissien.
Last week, activists had shared information and pictures of French soldiers in central Chad, Bathaa state’s capital Attia, saying that the French soldiers are going to form a new military base. The French embassy denied it in a statement, just as the Chadian government did too.
Government spokesman Abdulrahman Koulamallah confirmed that some soldiers from the French army came to Attia airport, but were there to fix a French plane that had been grounded for more than a year for technical reasons.
“There are few soldiers, about 30 of them with a few vehicles and one military tank to guard the plane,” he told Al Jazeera. “Sometimes planes come from France for that reason, but there is no French military base in the country as the activists are saying.”
“People went out based on political propaganda on social media that France had intervened,” he added. “France has been in this country for more than 60 years with at least 1500 soldiers and hospital to treat patients and all.”
But Koulamallah also described the protesters as thieves and chalked down the protests to what happened “when some thieves tried to steal and sabotage the petroleum stations, the police fired tear gas on them, it wasn’t a big deal.”