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Chad leader declares 15-day state of emergency

Chad's president declared a nationwide state of emergency Thursday, telling citizens that tightened controls are needed to restore order after recent rebel attacks.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Chad's president declared a nationwide state of emergency Thursday, telling citizens that tightened controls are needed to restore order after recent rebel attacks.

In a speech broadcast on national radio and television, President Idriss Deby said he signed a decree increasing the government's powers for 15 days, as provided for in Chad's constitution.

Deby said the decree instituted "measures important and urgent to maintain order, guarantee stability and assure the good functioning of the state."

Forces loyal to Deby battled rebels for two days and around the capital of this former French colony in Central Africa.

The Red Cross said more than 160 people died and 1,000 were wounded in the fighting, which reached the edge of the presidential palace before the rebels were driven out of N'Djamena and back toward Chad's eastern border with Sudan.

Deby's decree, which was read on the broadcast, said that as of Friday there will be "a state of emergency throughout the territory of the Republic of Chad."

The measure empowers regional governors to control the movement of people and vehicles, bans most meetings, allows the government to control what is published in the press and imposes a curfew from midnight to 6 a.m.

After the 15-day period, the national assembly decides whether to allow an extension of the state of emergency.

Earlier Thursday, French officials said the rebels were hovering around the town of Goz Beida, in a region where European Union peacekeepers are to deploy over the next three months to protect refugees from Sudan's troubled Darfur region.

Official: French helped Chad's army
In recent developments, French forces transported munitions from Libya and other countries to Chad's army during the rebellion on Feb. 2 and 3, a French Defense Ministry spokesman said Thursday.

French authorities insist the forces did not take part in the fighting between Deby's army and rebels. France has troops in Chad to help stabilize the country and train government forces.

Laurent Teisseire said France "helped Chad receive munitions coming from other countries." Speaking at a Paris news conference, he said Libya was among those countries, but did not name the others.

Teisseire did not detail the type of munitions sent to Chad and it was not immediately clear when they were sent to Chad — before or after the main fighting.

Thursday's revelations gave a deeper sense of France's role during the fighting.

The French Defense Ministry has said that France provided Deby with logistical and intelligence support. French troops also helped Chad's army during a previous rebellion in April 2006, but President Nicolas Sarkozy, elected last year, has said he wants a "healthier relationship" with Africa with partnership "between equal nations."

Parade of rebel prisoners
At the Paris news conference, a French military spokesman, Cmdr. Christophe Prazuck, said French forces opened fire "about 10 times" during the violence, but only in self-defense. There was no fire from French air power, he said.

Two French soldiers, including one from special forces, were lightly injured in the siege of N'Djamena, Prazuck said. Rebels fired rocket-propelled grenades against French military positions near the N'Djamena airport, and French troops responded with "proportionate" firepower to repel them, he said.

On Wednesday, the Chadian government paraded 135 alleged rebel prisoners, some said to be as young as 15, charging they were Sudanese mercenaries paid by neighboring Sudan and al-Qaida fighters. The government produced little evidence to bolster its charges.

The prisoners "were sent by (Sudan's President) Omar al-Bashir, by al-Qaida, to destabilize not only Chad but all of Africa," Interior Minister Mahamat Ahmat Bachir told reporters.

Sudan has repeatedly denied charges that it supported the rebels.

Bachir said the Chadian government was continuing house-to-house searches to arrest other rebels it said still were hiding in the capital.

Bachir also said the government was setting up a judicial inquiry into the whereabouts of three opposition leaders reportedly arrested during the attack on the capital "because, until now, we do not know if they were arrested or were hiding away some place."

But he had said earlier that the politicians were arrested at a time when their homes were "in the control of mercenaries." Then he said that authorities had heard of the arrests only over the radio.

Late Wednesday, French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner demanded explanations about the arrest of the three  Yorongar Ngarledji, Ibni Oumar Mahamat Saleh and Mahamat Choua. In a statement, Kouchner also demanded that the International Committee for the Red Cross should be allowed to visit them.