Chadian opposition decries Deby’s son as interim leader

N’DJAMENA, Chad — Chad’s political opposition is saying the country suffered a “coup d’etat” when power was handed to Mahamat Idriss Deby, arguing that the military did not follow constitutional rules for succession following the death of his father after more than three decades in power.

The mounting opposition to Chad’s transitional government Thursday came as the international community also pressed for a democratic transfer of power following the killing of longtime President Idriss Deby Itno. The military said Deby died while making a visit to the front lines of the battle against rebels now threatening to advance on the capital.

“The Chadian people tell us they do not want a dynastic transfer of power,” one opposition leader, Succes Masra, said in a video message released online. “The Chadian people do not want to continue with the same institutions that have created the current situation.”

A military spokesman announced Idriss Deby Itno’s death on Tuesday and said in the same announcement that his 37-year-old son would serve as the head of an 18-month-long transitional government. However, the constitution calls for the National Assembly president to become the country’s leader in the event a president dies in office.

The National Assembly president said late Wednesday that he supported the decision to bypass him and appoint the military council to lead the transition instead.

U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters in Washington that “the developments in recent days and hours are a cause for concern.”

“We want to see a peaceful democratic transition of power to a civilian-led government,” he said. “We would be concerned by anything that would stand in the way of that.”

The rebels blamed for killing the president have vowed to overtake the capital in the aftermath of Deby’s death, though there has been no independent confirmation of how close they are to N’Djamena.

The rebels’ threats, though, have already spread fear in the capital city of 1 million ahead of Friday’s planned funeral for Deby. Among the heads of state expected to attend is French President Emmanuel Macron.

During Deby’s rule, France established its regional military base in Chad to combat extremist violence in Africa. Deby also contributed invaluable troops to the U.N. peacekeeping mission in northern Mali that has sought to stabilize the country after France’s 2013 military intervention to dislodge Islamic extremists from power in the north.

Human rights groups say those contributions helped to shield Deby from international criticism as his government became increasingly autocratic.

“For years, international players have propped up Deby’s government for its support for counterterrorism operations in the Sahel and the Lake Chad basin and involvement in other regional initiatives while largely turning a blind eye to his legacy of repression and violations of social and economic rights at home,” Human Rights Watch said in a statement Wednesday.

Earlier this month, Deby was elected to a sixth term after facing minimal opposition because several challengers chose to boycott, fearing the vote would be rigged. In a bit to thwart opposition activists, the internet in Chad was disrupted several times before and during the April 11 voting day.

Authorities now believe the rebels blamed for killing Deby entered Chad that same day from southern Libya.

The rebels now aiming for the capital are led by Mahamat Mahadi Ali, a longtime Deby opponent who formed the shadowy group known by its French acronym, FACT, in 2016 after leaving another rebel group, the Union of Forces for Democracy and Development.

___ Larson reported from Dakar, Senegal. Associated Press writer Matthew Lee in Washington contributed.