Idriss Deby funeral: Macron, African leaders gather as rebel threat looms


But the struggle is far from over as Chad — a key Western ally in the fight against violent extremism — confronts uprisings and insurgencies from practically every direction.

Déby had commanded what is known as the region’s toughest military, backed by French and American support, in the fight against Islamist militants destabilizing swaths of its neighbors: Nigeria, Mali and Niger.

The thousands of Chadian soldiers deployed across the region are seen as crucial guards against fighters linked to the Islamic State and al-Qaeda, who have killed thousands and displaced millions in their quest to dominate stretches of West and Central Africa.

Now those troops are at risk of being ordered back to Chad, said a French official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss military matters publicly, to protect the capital and the country’s new ruler, 37-year-old Gen. Mahamat Kaka from the forces aiming to replace him.

Other members of Déby’s family had been fed up by his long rule and authoritarian bent — a nephew had led one previous rebellion against him — and critics from his own ethnic group called for a fresh start after his death, condemning his son’s ascent as an unconstitutional dynasty.

The military swiftly named Kaka as Chad’s interim leader Tuesday after the 68-year-old Déby was announced dead in the hours after his reelection for a sixth term. The transition council pledged to hold an election within 18 months, though opponents have voiced doubts that Déby’s son will surrender his position.

Gen. Azem Bermandoa, an army spokesman, said in a statement that Déby “took his last breath defending the territorial integrity on the battlefield” while visiting Chadian troops on the front lines.

Rebels concentrated near the country’s northern border with Libya had assaulted army outposts and were driving toward the capital. It’s still unclear how exactly Déby died, and his allies continued to investigate the circumstances of his demise Friday.

The rebels — the Front for Change and Concord in Chad, or FACT — appeared to suspend attacks ahead of Déby’s funeral but warned global leaders to stay away from the capital, N’Djamena, citing security concerns.

France, which has a military base in Chad and about 5,100 soldiers in the region, defended Déby from ouster attempts in the past, lending troops in strikes against earlier uprisings.

On Friday, French President Emmanuel Macron urged calm as Chad entered a fragile period of reset.

“The transition that will take place in Chad must be a moment of unity, for the Chadian people and for the stability of the region,” Macron tweeted, adding that Chad can count on “France’s unwavering friendship.”

By attending the funeral, Macron sent the message that Chad’s transitional military council is legitimate, said Roland Marchal, a researcher at Sciences Po Paris.

“France is a prisoner of its relations with Chad, more than Chad is a prisoner of its relations with France,” he said, referring to Chad’s military cooperation with France in the region.

Paris has largely turned a blind eye to the Chadian leadership’s history of silencing dissent, among other human rights abuses, Marchal said.

Kaka’s ascension violated democratic norms, he added. The speaker of the National Assembly, Haroun Kabadi, had been next in line, according to the Chadian constitution.

The Chadian regime is central to France’s security strategy in the region, said Nathaniel Powell, an associate researcher at the U.K.’s Lancaster University focused on the relationship.

The European power, which colonized much of West and Central Africa, has deep business ties in the region — and wants to keep the terrorism threat away from Paris.

“The French have made very clear statements that they would much prefer an unconstitutional stability,” Powell said, rather “than a potentially messy transition.”

Macron sat next to Déby’s son at the funeral in N’Djamena, where he addressed a crowd of dignitaries and military officers in camouflage fatigues. Photos showed people weeping behind face masks.

“We are standing and will stand alongside you,” the French president said.

Paquette reported from Washington and Noack from Paris. Lesley Wroughton in Cape Town, South Africa, and Borso Tall in Dakar, Senegal, contributed to this report.

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