By Mahamat Ramadane
N'DJAMENA -A violent crackdown on anti-government protests in Chad killed at least three people on Thursday, family members and a hospital worker said, prompting a denunciation of the "repression of demonstrations" by the Africa Union.
Demonstrators demanding a quicker transition to democratic rule barricaded roads and torched the party headquarters of the new prime minister as hundreds took to the streets.
The vast, military-run Central African nation has been in crisis since the April 2021 death of President Idriss Deby, who ruled with an iron fist for three decades. Deby was killed while visiting troops fighting rebels.
There has been resistance to a transitional military council headed by Deby's son, who took power after the president's death and pushed back elections to October 2024.
Opposition and civil society groups called the protests on Thursday, which would have marked the end of an initially agreed 18-month transition period. The government banned them citing security reasons.
But demonstrators showed up early in the morning, using burning tyres and debris to block roads in the capital.
Police fired tear gas and rubber bullets to break up gatherings throughout the city, killing at least three people and wounding several.
Chadian journalist Oredje Narcisse, who had worked with Reuters in the past, was among the dead, his brother said. He was not on assignment for the news agency when he was shot.
The other confirmed victims were 28-year-old protester Motcho Koumande, shot in the neck, and Chadian musician Ray's Kim, who died in hospital.
The vice-president of the national pharmacists' order, Haroun Badawi Badawi Mahamat, appealed for donations on Facebook.
"I firmly condemn the repression of demonstrations that led to deaths in Chad," African Union Commission Chair Moussa Faki Mahamat, who is a former prime minister of Chad, tweeted, calling for a peaceful solution to the crisis.
FRANCE DENIES INVOLVEMENT
As crowds stormed the streets of N'Djamena waving Chadian flags, some protesters turned to the headquarters of the newly appointed Prime Minister Saleh Kebzabo's National Union for Democracy and Renewal (UNDR) party.
Kebzabo, a historic opponent of Deby's regime, was named prime minister last week.
A national unity government was formed on Friday to lead Chad for the next two years until elections. But critics are demanding a swifter return to democracy and a change in government after Deby's long rule.
"Our headquarters were ransacked and then set on fire this morning," UNDR vice-president Celestin Topona told Reuters via telephone.
A spokesman for the government did not respond to a request for comment.
Security forces have cracked down on several civil society and opposition-led protests denouncing the military takeover and France's backing of the transitional government, sometimes causing deaths in the process.
In May, police fired tear gas and used water canon to disperse anti-French protests that saw the destruction of French-linked businesses.
France on Thursday condemned the violence and the use of lethal weapons against protesters.
"France has no role in these events, which are strictly a matter of Chad's internal politics. The false information about an alleged involvement of France has no basis," the foreign ministry said in a statement.