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Normalcy slowly returns in Chad following deadly protests

This photograph taken on October 20, 2022, shows burning barricades in a deserted street in N’Djamena during demonstrations.   -  
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-/AFP or licensors


Normalcy is slowly returning to Chad following deadly protests on Thursday.

Chad's government announced an overnight curfew on Thursday and said deadly clashes between police and demonstrators protesting the military's grip on power claimed around 50 lives.

Hundreds of demonstrators turned out in the capital N'Djamena and elsewhere on Thursday to mark the date when the military had initially promised to hand over power -- a spell that has been extended for another two years.

Chadian Prime Minister Saleh Kebzabo updated the official death toll to around 50 on Thursday night, saying most fatalities occurred in N'Djamena and the cities of Moundou and Koumra, while more than 300 people were injured.

A curfew between 6:00 pm and 6:00 am (1700 GMT and 0500 GMT) would remain in place until the "total restoration of order" in the hotspots of unrest, he added in a press conference.

Kebzabo also announced the suspension of "all public activity" of major opposition groups, including the Transformers party and civil society coalition Wakit Tamma.

The government had previously put the death toll at 30, including 10 members of the security forces.

"A banned demonstration became an insurrection," government spokesman Aziz Mahamat Saleh told AFP.

He accused demonstrators in N'Djamena of attacking "public buildings", including the offices of the governor, the headquarters of the prime minister's party and that of the speaker of parliament.

An AFP reporter saw five bodies on the floor of the city's Union Chagoua Hospital, two of which were covered with the Chadian national flag and three with bloodied white sheets.

The head doctor, Joseph Ampil, later confirmed to AFP that five individuals had "died from gunshots".

Palls of black smoke could be seen in some parts of the city and the sound of teargas grenades could be heard.

Barricades were set up in several districts and tyres were set alight in the main avenues to block traffic.

The headquarters of Kebzabo's UNDR party was also attacked by demonstrators "and partially burned down", UNDR Vice President Celestin Topona told AFP.

France, Chad's former colonial power, condemned the violence, noting it featured "the use of lethal weapons against demonstrators".

Moussa Faki Mahamat, head of the African Union Commission, posted a tweet to "firmly condemn the repression" of the protests and call for peaceful ways to overcome the country's "crisis".

The United Nations said it "deplored the lethal use of force" and called for an investigation into reported human rights violations.

Later the EU condemned the Chad authorities' action.

"The repression of demonstrations and the excessive use of force constitute serious violations of the freedoms of expression and demonstration, which undermine the ongoing transition process," the bloc's foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, said in a statement, calling for those responsible to be brought to justice.

Lewis Mudge, Human Rights Watch's Central Africa director, demanded an impartial investigation to assign responsibility and guarantee that force was only used as a last resort.

- Key date -

The violence comes on the heels of a national forum organised by military strongman Mahamat Idriss Deby Itno that extended his stay in power.

The 38-year-old five-star general took over in April 2021 after his iron-fisted father, Idriss Deby Itno, in power for three decades, was killed during an operation against rebels.

The younger Deby has since angered many at home and embarrassed backers abroad by staying in power beyond his initially promised deadline, which would have expired on Thursday.

"They're firing on us. They are killing our people," Succes Masra, whose Transformers party was among groups that had called the protest, said on Twitter.

Deby's junta had originally declared it would restore civilian rule after 18 months in power and he initially promised not to take part in elections that would follow.

But as this deadline neared, a nationwide forum staged by Deby reset the clock.

On October 1, the conference 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 Kebzabo, a 75-year-old former journalist and one-time opposition figure.

One protester, Abass Mahamat, 35, said he had chosen to voice his anger at "this facade of a dialogue which entrenches the system".

"In 31 years, we haven't seen any positive change in our country."

The vast, arid Sahel state has had a long history of coups and political turmoil since it gained independence from France in 1960.