Chad began funeral ceremonies on Friday for veteran ruler, Idriss Deby Itno, a key figure in the fight against the Sahel’s jihadist insurgency, as France and regional allies voiced backing for his son and successor, Mahamat Idriss Deby.
The elder Deby, who had ruled the vast semi-desert state with an iron fist for 30 years, died from wounds sustained fighting rebels at the weekend, the army said on Tuesday.
His death has stunned the Sahel and its key ally France, battling a nine-year-old jihadist revolt that has claimed thousands of lives and forced hundreds of thousands from their homes.
There followed a 21-gun salute for Deby, who only last August had been declared a field marshal – the first in Chad’s history – after leading an offensive against jihadists in the west of the country.
Just before the funeral, Macron and his counterparts from Burkina Faso, Mali, Mauritania and Niger jointly met with Deby’s son.
The leaders, expressing a “unity of views”, said they “stood by Chad and expressed their joint support for the process of civilian-military transition for the stability of the region”, a French presidential official said.
The 37-year-old general was named President and Head of a Military Council immediately after Deby’s death was announced.
He will wield full powers but has promised “free and democratic” elections after an 18-month transition period that can be extended once.
The move has been branded an “institutional coup” by the opposition.
The army said the 68-year-old had died from wounds suffered while leading troops in battle against heavily armed rebels who had launched an incursion from neighbouring Libya.
The Front for Change and Concord in Chad (FACT) has vowed to pursue its offensive after a pause for Deby’s funeral, with spokesman Kingabe Ogouzeimi de Tapol telling AFP that the rebels were “en route to N’Djamena”.
On Monday, the day of his reported death, the army had claimed a “great victory”, saying it had killed more than 300 FACT rebels and captured 150 others, with the loss of five soldiers.