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Déby heads for victory as rebels threaten new unrest

Idriss Déby Itno seemed assured on Thursday of re-election as Chad’s president, but the expected victory has already been clouded by new threats of violence by armed rebels in the desert country.

Independent observers said the poll itself on Wednesday drew a low turnout following a boycott call by the opposition amid charges of vote-rigging, although the official electoral commission put participation at over 70%.

On the other hand, rebel threats to disrupt the polling failed to materialise, which one Western diplomat said was a victory in itself. ”It’s a victory for Déby,” he said. ”The turnout doesn’t matter very much to him. The main thing was to show the election could take place peacefully.”

The rebel United Front for Change (FUC) warned that the calm was deceptive.

”We have other priorities,” spokesperson Albissaty Saleh Allazam said. ”We were busy setting up a united leadership with other rebel movements.”

He added: ”Rest assured there will be a very big offensive against the Déby regime in the days to come.”

A foreign observer noted on Wednesday that the turnout was even lower than that for a referendum last year on a constitutional change enabling Déby to run for a third term as president.

Déby (54), who has come under increasing criticism over alleged human rights violations and rising poverty despite Chad’s newfound oil resources, ran against only four very marginal challengers, three of whom are members of parties serving in government and the fourth a virtual unknown.

The opposition claimed vindication in the low turnout.

”Our appeal for a boycott succeeded,” said Mahamat Saleh Ibni Oumar, spokesperson of the main opposition alliance, the Coordination of Political Parties for the Defence of the Constitution.

”It was not a legitimate election,” he said. ”Déby was trying to obtain legitimacy by this vote, but he lost his legitimacy a long time ago.”

But government officials demurred. Ahmat Mahamat Bachir, head of a national electoral commission effectively under government control, said the people of the capital, N’djamena, had shown keen interest.

Even before polling booths closed, the secretary general of the ruling Patriotic Salvation Movement and head of the president’s election campaign, Mahamat Hissene, hailed a turnout he said was much higher than for last year’s referendum.

”The participation constitutes a denial to commentators who claimed this election was ill-timed,” he said, dismissing earlier appeals by the political classes here, the church, the United States and the African Union for the election to be postponed because of unrest.

Déby, himself a former warlord, disregarded the calls barely three weeks after FUC rebels reached the gates of the capital before being stopped by government troops.

The rebel onslaught followed a failed coup attempt on March 14.

Meanwhile, Déby remains embroiled in a row with the World Bank in Washington over management of petrodollars. Chad, chronically poverty-stricken despite its oil resources, is a landlocked desert state in the southern Sahara, with an estimated population of 10-million.

After gaining independence from France in 1960, Chad saw a series of coups, including one in which Déby seized power in 1990.

Six years later he became the country’s first president to be elected by universal suffrage.

The president’s election campaign watchword had been ”me or chaos”, warning of civil war if he were overthrown. — AFP



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Francesco Fontemagg
Francesco Fontemaggi
Francesco Fontemaggi is a diplomatic correspondent for Agence France Presse in Washington, D.C. His work has also appeared in MSN, Business Insider, Channel 7, Seven News, Yahoo, Le Figaro, and France 24

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