Chad leader blames protest organizers for civilian deaths

October 24, 2022 GMT
FILE - Chad's Gen. Mahamat Idriss Deby, the head of its military government, waves as he is welcomed by French President Emmanuel Macron for a meeting at the Elysee Palace in Paris, Nov. 12, 2021. Chadian security forces opened fire on anti-government demonstrators in the country's two largest cities Thursday, Oct. 20, 2022 killing at least 60 people, the government spokesman and a morgue official said. Authorities imposed a curfew after the violence, which came amid demonstrations in the central African nation against interim leader Mahamat Idriss Deby's two-year extension of power. (AP Photo/Michel Euler, File)
FILE - Chad's Gen. Mahamat Idriss Deby, the head of its military government, waves as he is welcomed by French President Emmanuel Macron for a meeting at the Elysee Palace in Paris, Nov. 12, 2021. Chadian security forces opened fire on anti-government demonstrators in the country's two largest cities Thursday, Oct. 20, 2022 killing at least 60 people, the government spokesman and a morgue official said. Authorities imposed a curfew after the violence, which came amid demonstrations in the central African nation against interim leader Mahamat Idriss Deby's two-year extension of power. (AP Photo/Michel Euler, File)
FILE - Chad's Gen. Mahamat Idriss Deby, the head of its military government, waves as he is welcomed by French President Emmanuel Macron for a meeting at the Elysee Palace in Paris, Nov. 12, 2021. Chadian security forces opened fire on anti-government demonstrators in the country's two largest cities Thursday, Oct. 20, 2022 killing at least 60 people, the government spokesman and a morgue official said. Authorities imposed a curfew after the violence, which came amid demonstrations in the central African nation against interim leader Mahamat Idriss Deby's two-year extension of power. (AP Photo/Michel Euler, File)
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FILE - Chad's Gen. Mahamat Idriss Deby, the head of its military government, waves as he is welcomed by French President Emmanuel Macron for a meeting at the Elysee Palace in Paris, Nov. 12, 2021. Chadian security forces opened fire on anti-government demonstrators in the country's two largest cities Thursday, Oct. 20, 2022 killing at least 60 people, the government spokesman and a morgue official said. Authorities imposed a curfew after the violence, which came amid demonstrations in the central African nation against interim leader Mahamat Idriss Deby's two-year extension of power. (AP Photo/Michel Euler, File)
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FILE - Chad's Gen. Mahamat Idriss Deby, the head of its military government, waves as he is welcomed by French President Emmanuel Macron for a meeting at the Elysee Palace in Paris, Nov. 12, 2021. Chadian security forces opened fire on anti-government demonstrators in the country's two largest cities Thursday, Oct. 20, 2022 killing at least 60 people, the government spokesman and a morgue official said. Authorities imposed a curfew after the violence, which came amid demonstrations in the central African nation against interim leader Mahamat Idriss Deby's two-year extension of power. (AP Photo/Michel Euler, File)

N’DJAMENA, Chad (AP) — Chad’s interim leader Mahamat Idriss Deby on Monday said those who organized protests against his two-year extension of power have shown “the will to start a civil war,” marking his first speech since a violent crackdown on demonstrators left dozens of people dead across the country.

The speech broadcast live on national television and radio comes four days after witnesses said that security forces had fired live ammunition at protesters in the capital, N’Djamena, and in the country’s second-largest city, Moundou.

The opposition has said more than 70 demonstrators were killed, while a combined toll of 62 was given by the government spokesman and a morgue official. The unprecedented violence toward the demonstrators drew swift condemnation from abroad.

Deby, who has been in power since the April 2021 death of his father, defended the crackdown Monday night and blamed the deaths on those who had organized the antigovernment protests.

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“These are not simple demonstrations that have been brought under control, but a real insurrection meticulously planned to create chaos in the country,” Deby said in his speech.

Human rights groups have said that the demonstrators were unarmed and that the use of force was disproportionate. However, Deby told Chadians that those who organized the protests “bear a heavy responsibility for the killings of October 20.”

“They recruited and used terrorist and paramilitary groups to carry out gratuitous mass murders,” he said.

“I will use all legal means at my disposal to prevent these plans that are harmful to our country,” he added.

Deby’s father, the late President Idriss Deby Itno, led Chad for more than three decades. He died after being attacked by rebels while visiting his troops on the frontlines in the north, officials said.

Last Thursday marked what was to be the end of Chad’s 18-month transition, but the government recently announced that Deby would stay in power for another two more years instead. Protests were held in five cities around the country Thursday.

“The fight we are waging is for justice and equality for the 17 million Chadians by breaking with this armed dynasty serving 3% of the people,” prominent opposition leader Succes Masra after the deadly protests, accusing the government of trying “to create civil war.”

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Associated Press writer Krista Larson in Dakar, Senegal contributed.