Chad denies bail to charity workers in kidnap case

A judge in Chad denied bail on Wednesday to six French charity workers at the centre of a child-abduction case that sparked violent anti-French protests in the capital, Ndjamena.

The judge ruled that the defendants, along with three Chadians charged in the same case, should remain in custody.

”In view of the seriousness of the charges, allowing the accused to go free on bail would carry a public-order risk and could hamper the truth coming out,” the judge said.

The hearing in Ndjamena coincided with a violent protest by several hundred demonstrators who chanted anti-French slogans and threw stones at cars carrying Westerners.

The protest lasted about two hours before it was broken up by police using tear gas. The French embassy issued a warning to French citizens in Ndjamena, telling them to exercise especial caution and stick to the centre of the city.

Public anger in Chad has flared over what many see as French efforts to intervene in the case of the six charity workers arrested over an attempt to fly 103 children to France.

The charity said the children were orphans from Sudan’s war-torn Darfur region who it planned to place in foster care with families in Europe.

But Chad says the group did not have permission to take the children out of the country, and aid agencies who have since cared for the children said that most of them are Chadian and have at least one living parent.

The charity workers face kidnapping charges that could result in lengthy prison sentences with hard labour.

The demonstrators who took to the streets on Wednesday, some of them on motorbikes, protested in front of the French embassy — heavily guarded by Chadian police — as well as the French school in Ndjamena.

Cars carrying Westerners were stoned as the crowd chanted slogans denouncing French President Nicolas Sarkozy. ”Slavery is over,” the crowd shouted.

Originally 17 Europeans were arrested in the case, but 11 have since been freed, including three French journalists and four female Spanish flight attendants who were released when Sarkozy made a lightning trip to Chad on November 4.

The lawyer representing the charity workers, Jean-Bernard Padare, suggested that the protests may have been a factor in the judge’s decision to deny bail. ”The fact that the ruling coincided with the demonstrations is troubling,” he said.

Chad’s Justice Minister Albert Padacke argued that the protests simply reflected popular support for the case to be tried in Chad. ”There is no risk that judgement will be handed down elsewhere. It will be done in Chad,” he said. — Sapa-AFP

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